Category Archives: Health

Trophy

It’s that time of year again, for graduations and award ceremonies. These are generally happy occasions, but I personally find the experience a bit mixed. You see, I am not an award winner, not the one up on stage giving a speech. I am introverted, and, truth be told, not that accomplished.

More than that, though, I can’t go to an awards ceremony without hearing about the awardee’s positive attitude, the smile on the face, the spring in the step, the can-do spirit. The awardee is invariably “more” than their grades, or their work achievements, or their sports skills, and that something extra is what “really” earned them the award. It is not, we are told, the specific accomplishment that award has engraved on it or sculpted into it—not even they are handed a tiny golden man with an even tinier ball stuck to his foot.

This is all well and good–I mean, I wouldn’t want to go back to the bad old days when the only award given out went to the worst insufferable know-it-all in the class. I like that there are more awardees these days, recognizing a diversity of contributors and achievements.

But I still can’t help wondering about the other kids, the other non-award-winners. The ones who, despite a modicum of achievement, can’t summon a positive attitude; the ones whose support systems are fraying, whose grip on mental or physical health may be precarious, or who just aren’t that into it, but who still put in the effort, come to school every day, and do the work. It’s damn hard to excel at something you dislike. But these kids do it.

I think most well-meaning adults would argue that attitude is a “choice” and if you’re not feeling it, you should just fake it until you make it. After all, it’s true that you don’t have to feel like doing something in order to get it done. And from an adult’s point of view, it’s certainly a lot easier to like and bestow favors upon a smiling kid than one who is angry, frustrated or withdrawn.

But faking it emotionally comes at a cost. Student stress, anxiety, and depression have reached alarming levels, even among those who appear to be comfortable, safe, and financially solvent. Students talk about the burden of “effortless perfection” that they feel is expected of them, especially at so-called top schools.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma. Students make these expectations of each other, and of themselves too. But I think that adults contribute to the problem when we make recognition all about the smile. I’d like to see, maybe just once during a 90-minute ceremony, a kid getting an award for completing something difficult and unpleasant, for dragging themselves out of bed and facing the inner demons for the 90th time that year, and not having fun doing it.

Trophy

Negative

I’ve been getting over jet lag since getting back to California from my European trip, and finding that 9 hours is pretty difficult to overcome. It’s harder than the 6 hour time difference that used to characterize my trips to Europe when I lived in the Boston area. There is also much less difference between going East and going West when I’ve got 9 or 10 hours to change. Now it is approaching the point where everything is just flipped, turned inside-out; day is night and night is day, and the most I can do to cope is to get some sun and exercise during the day, and wait it out.

Continue reading Negative

Yoga by the Lake

When I do yoga, it usually means that something is going on. Historically I associate yoga with transitions and with moves to new places. I went to a yoga class when I visited a lab in Michigan for a brief sabbatical during my postdoc. I also did it after breaking up with a long-term boyfriend and moving into my own apartment. I had a yoga VHS tape I used to do in the basement of my old house. And, I tend to do it on vacation, if there’s a class offered at the hotel where I’m staying or on the cruise ship. I’ve even done yoga in church: Sun Salutations as part of an RE class about Buddhism that barely scratched the surface, of either yoga or Buddhism.

Continue reading Yoga by the Lake

Nerve Growth Factors: A primer

In honor of Brain Awareness Week, I am writing about a topic I studied during my PhD in Neuroscience: growth factors, specifically nerve growth factors, also called “neurotrophins.” These are small proteins that help neurons to survive and make connections with each other. They do so by being made in one cell and binding to a protein called a receptor on the surface of another cell. Once the neurotrophin binds to its receptor, biochemical signals are activated inside the receiving cell that enable it to survive and grow. Continue reading Nerve Growth Factors: A primer

UU Lent, Day 5: Love

We adopted a cat today. Or rather, we put down a deposit on adopting a cat tomorrow, from the Humane Society of Silicon Valley. Her name is Sadie, and she is 4 years old, part Siamese, very soft, and a little chubby. Her blue eyes are a little crossed. She is a sweet, mellow cat. Not one that is going to jump on you or lick your face. Continue reading UU Lent, Day 5: Love

Fitbit Fit

Several Christmases ago I bought myself a pedometer, a Geopalz “Global Footprint,” toglobalfootprint
keep up with my kids, who got other Geopalz as gifts.

Four years later and I’m the only one who still cares. That Global Footprint has been lost and found too many times to count: in my Belmont backyard after mowing the lawn, in a store dressing room, in the garage, in my classroom at work in Newton, in the weight room on a cruise ship, and on the way back from a waterfall in Hawaii. (In that case, it was my son who fished it out of the water.) It survived a spin in the washing machine after not being removed from my pants pocket. My teenage daughter’s iPhone-in-the-toilet story may top all of these, but just barely.

geopalzAfter its final farewell, somewhere unknown at the school in Massachusetts where I taught (and where I was trying to see if I could increase the amount I walked around the classroom while I was lecturing), I got fed up.

Continue reading Fitbit Fit

Anything But a Car

Since moving to California, we have been trying to interest our middle-school-aged son in riding his bike to school. In Massachusetts, I’d been the Walk to School coordinator for years while my kids were in elementary school. I became familiar with International Walk to School Day in early October, when we would have major events. One year I guest-blogged on Free Range Kids about it: Non-Sanctimonious Blog about Today: WALK TO SCHOOL DAY!  Even on regular days, I would walk with my kids, drop them off, and then catch the bus to work.

But biking has been another story. It’s been an uphill battle, metaphorically, if not literally (our area is quite flat). When we lived in Massachusetts, our kids never really took to cycling either, for various reasons. We lived on a hill, the streets around us weren’t all that quiet or car-free, it was cold and/or snowy a lot of the year, you had to find your helmet, and, most distressing to me, the culture around biking had changed.

As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s I remember riding my bike alone or with friends at a surprisingly young age. For example, when I was in elementary school, my next-door neighbor and I rode our bikes alone, without adults or helmets, to Carrols, a fast food restaurant a little less than a mile away and collected the Looney Tunes glasses that you could get with the purchase of a large Pepsi. Today’s eBay listings for these glasses say they were made and sold in 1973, which would have made me 7 or 8 years old when this was happening. Yes, at age 8, I helmetlessly rode my bike almost a mile each way with only a similar-aged friend for company, in order to purchase and consume a large sugary beverage in a commercial tie-in glass. The horror!

Even more horrifying to me is the fact that neither of my children, born in 1999 and 2003, respectively, have ever done anything like this.

When we first got here I had high hopes. California culture seems a lot more conducive to biking in many ways: there are bike lanes all over the place, the weather is always good, and the school district heavily promotes biking to school. In fact, just last Tuesday, I spent a half hour handing out raffle tickets to all the bikers, walkers, and skateboarders for “ABC: Anything But a Car” day at my son’s middle school. But that school is too far for our son to walk, and he was not enthusiastic about biking, at all.

He finally did it for the first time a few weeks ago when he had to get to school early and I had to go to work even earlier, so I couldn’t drive him. But it was not without a lot of foot-dragging and whining. He biked for ABC day last week, and now he has a new bike to replace the old one that he might have felt was too small and embarrassing to ride to 7th grade. At least the helmet is a non-issue: everyone wears them and he wouldn’t even be interested in trying to go without. The latest challenge is that it’s now so dark in the morning that the sun has barely risen by 7:20 when he has to leave for school. If we can just get through this week to the fall back, he’ll have some daylight again for biking.

I am trying to get used to using my own bike for errands too. Here we are in the land of the endless freeways, hopefully riding our bikes!

Exercise Non-responders

I’m learning a lot since I started blogging here on Word Press. For example, I started following a fitness blog called “Fit is a Feminist Issue” a few months ago, and from it I just found about a group of people called exercise non-responders. The “Fit” blogger calls these people “rational couch potatoes,” because they don’t get more fit or stronger with exercise. Some of them might even get worse, worn down and exhausted by fitness programs. She linked to an article by Gretchen Reynolds from earlier this year: Exploring Why Some People Get Fitter than Others.

This was an interesting and eye-opening article, although not because I am surprised that non-responders exist. After all, I’ve been living with the condition myself, or something related that I will call “low response” rather than “non response,” for almost 50 years. Mostly, I’m annoyed that in all this time, I had never read a serious NYT-level, or even Word Press Blogger-level, article about fitness from this angle before. I almost feel as if there’s been some massive gym teacher and fitness-enthusiast conspiracy targeted at me and my fellow low- or non-responders, aimed at dismissing us, excluding us, and making us feel crazy, lazy, and bad about ourselves.

For example, I’ve been telling people for more years than I’d like to remember that I don’t get “runner’s high.” If I didn’t have some good runner friends whom I consider trustworthy sources, I would say that “runner’s high” is a complete myth promulgated by fitness magazines and personal trainers. But as it is, I’ve come to view runners’ high as being like certain religious ecstatic experiences that I’ve never had either. It’s not that I disbelieve or discount that others are telling the truth when they say that they have had these experiences. But such experiences remain outside my personal ken. And I’m not going to fake it, or lie, until I “make it,” just to jump on the bandwagon and avoid whatever personal hell the enthusiasts seem to be so afraid of.

I need to sit with this idea of exercise non-response being a thing for a while and process all the ramifications. I don’t think the right response is to stop exercising altogether. The way I have been behaving, before this knowledge, has been as follows. I keep exercise very light and moderate. I walk instead of run, I bike slowly and without toe clips.

I have been trying to follow a push-up app called 100 pushups for the past 3 years. This app claims to be able to get you from zero to 100 in 6 weeks. There is a graph function for your progress, but the x-axis is not proportional to time spent:

IMG_3395

The beginning of the graph shows me, during the first several months that I tried, progressing for a little while, repeatedly hitting a wall, and going back to the beginning. That one ridiculously high peak that got up to 200 reps a day came when I switched to doing pushups from my knees rather than doing full-body pushups, because I just couldn’t keep up with the program doing the full-body ones.

The graph does not show the long, sometimes months-long, gaps between crashing and burning, and starting over again, over the course of 2 years.

About midway through the graph is what I started doing this year, in 2015. I started slow and just kept repeating levels over and over again. I didn’t move on to the next set of reps until I really felt like I could do the level I was at. This usually took 5-10 repetitions of the same level. I found it absurd that these levels were called “days” and that some people spent only one day at a particular level and then felt able to move on two days later. Again, I still wonder what mythical people the app was written for. Bodybuilders, maybe? Or maybe just high responders?

In any case, I’ve actually stopped doing the app again recently in favor of doing sets of 10 full-body pushups at random times of day. I do 10 when I get up and I do 10 before I go to bed, every day. I sometimes do 10 in the middle of the day at lunch too.

What I like about this method is that I have, after 3 years of doing pushups, gotten to the point that 10 quick full body pushups is, literally, no sweat. I can do them anywhere, anytime, no matter what I am wearing. They are like brushing my teeth. This is absolutely progress from when I started and could barely do even one. I even like the way my arms look, no middle-aged lady flabbiness. And I’m getting more core strength, which in my case was an even bigger problem than lack of arm strength. So, I can’t say that I’m a non-responder to this type of exercise. I do respond, but apparently not on the time scale that people seem to expect.

I’m assuming this research was rarely reported or written about in the past because it was assumed that people would use it as an excuse to give up and stop exercising. That makes me angry. I appreciate this research because I could really do without the shame, guilt, low self-esteem, and feelings of being defective and doing it wrong, that have accompanied exercise for me in the past. This knowledge makes me more likely to keep exercising (exercising my way), not less.