Pandemic Self-care

Four months into the Covid-19 social distancing, self-isolation lifestyle and we are definitely feeling the impact. The isolation, employment struggles, unknowns about schools and travel are exacting there toll in the form of stress and anxiety. A society esurient for normalcy, we attempt to gain control by developing new habits and adapting to new routines, not all of them good for us.

On this episode of the show, we visit again with health and weight loss coach Elizabeth Sherman to talk about ways to change our troubling behavior for the good and manage the stress and anxiety we are all experiencing.

Let’s Talk About Sex Baby!

Now that I having your attention I should mention that this post is not about you embracing your inner porn star.  It’s more about embracing fitness as an integral part of your sexual performance, thereby, ensuring that your partner or partners (whatever floats your boat my friend.  I’m not here to judge you) have a complete and enjoyable experience.  Simplified, we want to meliorate your bedroom swagger!

I don’t know what you talkin’ ’bout partner, I handle my business in the bedroom!” I have never in my life met a man that admitted to being a lousy lover.  I have, however, met plenty of women who have complained about mediocre Casanovas.  So somewhere, somehow there is a disconnect.  Well my dude, it’s time to Man Up and get real with yourself.  Are you fit enough to go the distance?

The Physical

It is no secret that exercise is good for you.  It keeps your heart healthy, increases stamina, strengthens muscle and enhances flexibility.  And it makes your sex life better.  Studies show that men and women who were more physically fit rated their own sexual performance higher.
Exercise means more sex.  I kid you not.  The reasons for this are not clear but research does show that the more a person exercises, the more sex he or she tends to have.  It also enhances sexual aging.  A study that examined sexual frequency and satisfaction ratings of swimmers age 60 found that their ratings were similar to those 20 years younger.
And then there is Erectile Dysfunction.  For many men our age, ED is more a reality than it is an office joke.  You can help avoid the condition if you keep the blood flowing to your “little buddy” (insert giggle here) without interruption.  Blocked arteries, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues can interfere with blood flow.  Regular exercise reduces the risk of ED by keeping the heart and arteries healthy.
Hitting the gym also boosts the sex hormone, testosterone.  A Baylor University study found that men’s testosterone levels were highest during the 48 hours after they lifted weights.  Additionally, a study conducted by the New England Research Institute documented that a man’s waist size correlates with his testosterone levels.  They found that a waist size larger than 41 inches was a better indicator of low testosterone levels than overall weight.
Being fit also gives you options in the bedroom.  A stronger, more flexible you leads to exploration beyond the missionary position.  If you’re doing it right, sex can be an intense, physically demanding activity requiring strength and endurance.  With increased strength and endurance comes the possibility for more varied sexual positions that require greater physical control.  Can a brother get an “amen” ladies?

The Mental

A key to good sexual experiences is actually feeling sexy.  Being fit helps you feel sexy.  People who exercise have an improved body image over people who don’t exercise.  Having confidence in your appearance leads to better and more relaxed sex.  You are less likely to think about the bits and pieces of your body that bother you and more likely to give attention to the task at hand…pleasing your partner.  Like most things in life, self-confidence leads to exceptional performance.  A study showed that more physically fit men and women rated their own sexual desirability higher than less active men and women.  80% of men and 60% of women who exercised two to three times weekly rated their own sexual desirability as above average.  If you don’t think that you are desirable, why should your partner?  They are going to buy what you are selling and if you are selling a sad state of affairs, the outlook for the evening will be pretty grim.
It’s never too late to start reaping all of the benefits of exercise.  Increased muscle tone, improved stamina, better blood flow, developed agility and self-confidence will lead to better sex.  My mission in the bedroom is to be the last one standing.  As I was fooling around with Mrs Lee trying to set some expectations for the evening, she looked at me, shook her head and said referring to my energy, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with your old ass.”  Mission accomplished.


You 2.0 Part Two – The Logo

You don’t want to look like this guy anymore than I do and, let’s face, we couldn’t if we tried.  He represents  an all day every day supplement ladened approach to working out that is not conducive to a normal life style.  Careers, family, social time, hobbies, volunteer work etc. is how we normal mortals roll.

We are looking for simple refinement to our company logo.  The previous post focused on the internal health of our organization (keeping with the corporate analogy again) and part 2 of You 2.0 will turn our attention outward to the brand identifier – our physical appearance.

The first step in the process of reshaping your body is to understand why you’ve failed in the past.  Information is a beautiful thing.  Some 88% of new year’s resolutions fail because of the limited way that your brain stores information according to Stanford professor Baba Shiv The brain cells that operate willpower are located in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for handling short-term memory, staying focused and solving abstract tasks.  That part of your brain is like a muscle that needs to be trained and it cannot handle the additional load*.

The most effective way to train this muscle and avoid the pitfall is to build a habit.  At the end of 2012 you resolved to lose weight and get in shape.  Your approach to fitness has been hit-or-miss.  You found time when you could with a treadmill walk here and some dumbbell lunges there, and by February the gym was a distant memory.  That is because your brain was overwhelmed with the amount of information (willpower) that you were trying to store.  But you don’t have an issue remembering or carrying out the things in your life that are a routine part of your existence i.e. going to work, grocery shopping, watching your favorite TV programs etc.  They are all on autopilot.  Your exercise program must become a habit.

Take small steps to build your habit.  I do so by attending a spin class (stationary bike) every Tuesday at my YMCA.  It serves as the foundation of my weekly routine.  From that point, I carryout a basic routine that concentrates on certain muscle groups each day and that I am able to repeat with ease each week.  Doing so ensures that my workouts are routine and very little thought is required.  For example, Wednesday is chest/tricep, Thursday bicep/back, Friday shoulders/legs,core and Saturday starts the whole thing over again with Monday as my day off.  I incorporate some kind of cardio in my daily warm up.  Again, the key is to make it as routine and consistent as possible to train your brain to include it in your daily schedule.  You need not live in the gym.  30-45 minutes a day can get this done!

So the good news is that you are not the lazy bastard that you thought you were.  The bad news is that you are running out of excuses to reach your goals. (By the way, you don’t want to look like this guy either)

Rebuild With Safety In Mind

Now that we know some of what causes us to come up short of our goals, it’s time to Man Up and and kick this thing into action.  But for goodness sake, start slow.  Don’t go rushing into the free weight room looking to display a prowess long bereft of action.  “A common pitfall guys make is doing too much, too fast” says Kevin S Heffernan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Exercise Science at Syracuse University.  And as Director of the Human Performance Lab, I think Dr. Kev is worth a listen.  “Gone are the ‘go big or go home’ days, at least initially”, he says.  Heffernan recommends allowing a little extra time for the warm-up.  “Don’t just swing your arm around in a circle for 5 seconds and call that a warm-up like you did when you were younger.”  He suggest starting with cardio to elevate body temperature and blood flow to the muscle.  After the warm-up, begin with some light static stretching, holding each stretch for 15-20 seconds.  Kevin notes, “that even moderate exercise may cause soreness now so don’t get discouraged.”

Other suggestions from Dr. Heffernan include:

a. Incorporate rotator-cuff exercises in your routine (see video demo)
b. Don’t neglect the abs and lower back! (guilty)
c. Learn proper form for all exercises.
d. If you have an injury, don’t work around it and don’t train over it. (guilty here too).  Building a shoddy foundation can only lead to collapse.
e. Leave “no pain, no gain” in the 80’s where it belongs.
f.  Watch your breathing during resistance exercises. Don’t hold your breath.
g. Be aware of your surroundings (avoid walking into protruding equipment parts)
h.  Don’t be too proud to ask for help.  Use a spotter whenever you can.

Finally,” Kevin says, “recognize that you’re not off the hook for being considered ‘sedentary’ just because you’re going to the gym 30-45 minutes a day.  What good is exercise if your’re sitting on your butt/lying down the other 23 hours that day.  In addition to moving more, try to sit less.”

Don’t let doubt, perfection and restlessness get in your way.  All are barriers to achieving your goals.

I’m not just the president of Hair Club for Men…..

One day I stood in front of the mirror with a sad and sour look on my face and my wife asked what was wrong.  I complained to her about the way I looked and she responded with four simple words, “do something about it.”  It was so simple and so matter-of-fact yet it felt like a pimp-slap across the face.  It was a sobering moment.
If you don’t like the way that your corporate logo is designed, redesign it.  Build an active lifestyle and embrace it.  Don’t have a bicycle?  Buy one.  Have a bicycle?  Then ride it.  Walk when you can.  Build up to jog and then a run.  Create challenges for yourself.  You say you’ve never competed in a 5K run?  Well do it.  You’ve tried the hit-or-miss approach to working out without success.  Create a routine that fits well into your daily schedule and stick to it.  Be a creature of habit.  You want to get to a point where you feel guilty for missing a workout.  Track your progress and take pride in your accomplishments.  Be patient.

It’s important to increase your metabolism to lose weight and weight lifting can help you accomplish that.  Muscles are an important factor in increasing your metabolism as a pound of muscle can burn up to 20 calories a day.  Since lifting weights helps build muscle and burn fat, it has a dual benefit in weight-loss programs.  Always remember to lift more weights than your muscles are used to.  If you are completing 20 reps of any exercise with relative ease, then you don’t have enough weight.  Shoot for 8-12 reps where the last rep of each set causes muscle fatigue.  In order to burn fat, build muscle, shape your body and lose weight, most experts recommend weight lifting at least 3 times per week.  Incorporate cardio exercises and a healthy diet for quicker results.

Equally important in burning fat and building muscle is getting the proper amount of zzzzzzs.  If you are sleep deprived, your metabolism cannot function properly or efficiently.**  We generally require 7.5 hours of sleep per night.  If you are sleeping an extra half-hour or so over that, you won’t see any improvement.  You are getting enough.  However, if you are only getting 4-5 hours of sleep per night, improving that to 7.5 – 8.0 per night will likely produce noticeable weight-loss results.  

I realize that we are busy little hominids and that there are only so many hours in a day.  Something has to give to in order to create room for the transformation that is to take place.  Perhaps it is some of the extra time you give your employer or maybe it eats into some family time.  In the long run, I believe that all parties that have an interest in you would be willing to give up a little time with you now so that they can experience more days with you down the road as you work toward longevity and improved quality of life.

Thanks to Syracuse University’s Kevin S. Heffernan PhD for his time and valuable contribution to this post and thank you for reading.  Now go get busy!  Part 3 of You 2.0 will put some final polish on your brand as we take a look at punching up your style.
*Credit blogger Leo Widrich, Buffer
**Credit Denise Mann, Web MD feature writer

You 2.0 Part 1

Nearly two months into the new year and let me guess…your New Year’s resolution is already history.  You resolved to lose weight, get in shape, ride a unicorn and quit smoking.  Why?  Because it’s what we do after the holidays.  It’s as much a part of the festive season as Christmas tree ornaments and, like those ornaments, the resolutions get tucked away in a decorative box and stored in the closet until we dust them off next year. I know this because this is the time of year that the equipment in the gym becomes more available as the “resolutioners” begin to fade into the abyss.

These failed resolutions are all about change right?  There is something about ourselves that we dislike and changing that one thing puts us on a path to feeling better about who we are or how others perceive us.  Why piss around with it one fault, one vice or one imperfection at a time.  Why not create a whole new you?  Reinvent and re-brand yourself holistically?  The next three Man Up posts are dedicated to exploring You 2.0.

Think of yourself as a corporation.  Your physical stature is your corporate logo.  How you look, act, speak, and treat others influence the attitudes and perceptions that others have about your brand.  And like a corporation, the relative health of your organization has a direct impact on those who rely on you.  Your family, employer, charitable organizations, little league team that you coach etc. are all affected when your health is in serious decline.  With that in mind, we are going to challenge ourselves to redefine and reshape our brand and get our own personal corporations in the healthiest state possible.  We will consider health, fitness and style as we work to create You 2.0.

Healthier You

Losing weight and getting healthier usually tops most list of popular New Year’s resolutions so that is where we will begin.  Let’s face it.  Many men over 40 are ensconced in a lifestyle that neither promotes longevity or instills much self-confidence.  We drink too much, eat the wrong foods, have poor sleeping habits, and are engaged in stressful jobs; a recipe for major mid-life health issues.

The first step is to do some analysis to understand the current health of your company.  What’s your current weight, body mass index and blood chemistry and blood pressure?  These are all very important data points that you will need to know in order to establish some goals.  Schedule some blood work through your doctor’s office to know what your cholesterol, blood glucose, sodium etc. levels are.  Calculate your BMI (body mass index) to know your percentage of body fat.  Get your blood pressure read.  Just as a company’s key performance indicators can give an accurate picture of corporate health, these health indicators can deliver a picture of your relative state of being.  The top 5 killers of men are 1) heart disease, 2) stroke, 3) suicide, 4) prostate cancer and 5) lung cancer.  Knowing your blood chemistry, blood pressure and BMI gives you the data to protect against many of these.

Are you carrying a good amount of belly fat?  Know this – belly fat is the worst fat and not just because it eclipses your new shoes.  Deep belly fat churns out proteins and hormones that make all kinds of bad things worse including bad cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and triglycerides.  It’s time to stop feeding that beast!

What Are You Shoving in Your Pie Hole?

Take a week to track the number of calories that you consume in a day and measure that against what you should be consuming.  There are a number of apps and web site tools that can easily give you the calorie count for the foods that you consume if they are not listed on the packaging.  As middle aged men, our metabolism slows down as we become less active in life.  The average 35-55 year old man should consume somewhere between 2,300-3,000 in order to maintain a healthy weight depending on your level of activity.  You will obviously adjust those numbers down if you want to lose weight.  While you are tracking the calories that you consume, also track the number of calories that you burn.  Again, there are a number of apps and web sites that can help you do this.  Armed with this information, you will be in a better position to determine what will get you on the right path to controlling your blood chemistry and dropping a few pounds.

5 and 5

Here are 5 foods that you should incorporate into your diet to reduce certain health risks like diabetes and 5 foods that you probably don’t realize are pretty harmful if over consumed.  The good:
1) Beans – a unique food because their starch component is made up of mostly digestible starch and resistant starch.  Pass the gas!
2) Greens – almost non existent effects on blood glucose and packed with fiber.  Skip cooking them to death in pork fat and try sauteing in extra virgin olive oil.
3) Non-starchy vegies – mushrooms, garlic, eggplant, peppers etc.
4) Nuts and seeds – they have minimal glycemic effects and promote weight maintenance.  Eat in moderation and go for low or no sodium.
5) Berries – are rich in fiber and antioxidants.  They also have powerful anti-cancer and blood pressure reducing effects.
The bad:
1) Barbecued meats, processed meats and commercial red meat.  Red and processed meat consumption is now considered a convincing cause of colon cancer.
2) Full fat dairy products (cheese, butter, whole milk) and trans fats (margarine).  These are calorie-dense foods that are loaded with saturated fat and contribute significantly to weight gain.
3) Fried foods and baked goods.  Fried = no good.
4) Soft drinks and artificial sweeteners – produce dangerous spikes in blood sugar.  And did you know that sweetened foods perpetuate the desire for sweeter foods?  The safety of artificial sweeteners is being question in new studies.
5) Processed foods, white flour products, white rice, etc. can produce harmful nutritional deficits and cellular inflammation.  Skip the white bread and white rice for 100% whole wheat bread and brown or long grain rice.
This is just the beginning of your journey to assessing your current condition and making the necessary changes for a healthier you. A healthy balance sheet if we are continuing with the corporate analogy. And keep this tucked under your hat:  Skip fad diets and stick to the basics.  You want your weight loss to be gradual and natural.  Be patient.  Rome wasn’t built in a day neither will be your sexy new frame.  Learn portion control and measure (don’t eyeball) your serving size.  It’s about creating and maintaining healthier eating habits.
Part 2 of You 2.0 will focus on the logo redesign – a leaner meaner you.