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Life And Tennis Update

Well that was a big gap in writing anything. Longest since I started this site in April 2009. I was definitely in a funk about all the sad personal events as well as the global crises. But there is mostly good news.

I went to a second cardiologist who gave me a special new test for coronary disease and learned in 15 minutes that my blockages are right in the mid-point for people my age. In fact some arteries are only 15-20% blocked, while others are 30-40% blocked. Invasive surgery to look with a camera and possibly put in a stent is only done if the blockage is 80-90%. So no surgery necessary. That was a relief.

Being given the go-ahead to play as much tennis as I wanted–or could–I accepted invitations to substitute in other games in addition to my twice-a-week regular dates. But I overdid it a bit, playing six times in six days (twice–morning and afternoon–one day for 4+ hours total). That week stretched out to 10 times in 12 days, and I admit that I am sore and tired. The biggest problem is the 80-degree plus heat…because playing in the cooler, late afternoons (6 pm) is much easier.

Next challenge of course is to improve my game…a constant in my life.

Ten minutes ago I learned that a man I knew and respected–but haven’t spoken to in 11 years–retired at age 65 last June, only to discover in January this year that he had cancer. Didn’t even know it…and then he died two weeks later! So sad, so terrifying.

This is how life is…it’s not extraordinary. Today and last week the global stock markets are falling in huge ways, people are losing their life savings, there is panic and regret and fear of the future. Completely understandable.

All the more reason to enjoy and accomplish, while we have the chance. You can’t put off all the good times for the future, because you may not have a future. It’s just the way it is…

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Yoga Not Quite For Beginners

Laura

Laura

When I was in high school, my mother started doing yoga…and I followed in her lotus steps. I was reasonably limber and wowed the kids in college. I just heard last week that one of my favorite tennis players, Leander Paes, who is from India and moves so artfully, does an hour of yoga each day. It reminded me of my youthful excursion into comfortable contortions and satisfying stretches.

So with these thoughts in mind, I noticed an article that linked to nine instagram sites of yoga practitioners who have poses way beyond anything I ever did. How about you? Think you can manage any of these? Obviously I am impressed with upside down poses…

Masumi

Masumi

Verna

Verna

Amanda

Amanda

90% Healthy

When I was divorced from my first wife in 1975, I felt like I joined half the human (American) brotherhood. I mean half of all marriages failed, and mine was merely another one of millions. Too bad that I thought my marriage would last my lifetime. Surprise!

On July 1st I had a similar realization: I learned that in spite of my healthy ways, and maybe due to bad genes, I not only had a PVC, but I also have coronary artery DISEASE! I have been in shock. I was reminded that I AM an American male, and after consulting two other doctors began taking a daily aspirin and statin pill. I was devastated. I am still stunned.

I have now had in the last two weeks more aspirins than in my entire life. I am no longer this incredibly healthy guy. Everyone I talk to has been taking statins for 10+ years. And as one friend said to help me rationalize and feel better, “You used to be 100% healthy. Now you are still 90% healthy!”

My uncle died of a heart attack at 51. My father had cholesterol counts in the 300s. My younger brother has high cholesterol and had a double bypass. So maybe my good health is only because I have watched my diet, stayed thin, exercised constantly. Still a shock to have anything wrong…which is exactly how most people my age live all the time. At least those who have survived this long.

My cardiologist said that some patients are so shattered by the psychological effects of learning what I learned that they opt for surgery just to find out how serious the artery is blocked. I don’t think I want to do that.

But then on Saturday the 11th, my dog friend Bella died. Two days later, my son-in-law died. He was only 50. Yesterday another friend in his late 40s had unexpected surgery. It has been a very sad and confronting time. I always say that life is fragile. No doubt about it these days.

Let’s see if I can play tennis this evening…have to stay active and healthy. The doc said exercise is essential, and there is no such thing as “too much” of it.

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Confronting Death And Illness

Bella resting

Bella resting

It’s been a confronting month with regards to health and exercise. I am still doing 5-15 minutes of something, whether push ups, flys, etc: yesterday was 1318 consecutive days. I have also been playing tennis 3-5 times a week…even 6 times one week this month.

But I also didn’t pass my annual physical EKG automatically…a PVC (premature ventricular contraction) that necessitated two stress tests, the second with radioactive isotopes to look at my heart muscle with a cat scan. The cardiologist meeting is coming up July 1st, but it sounds like it’s NOT life threatening. She said I could continue playing tennis and to just watch out for symptoms greater than being out of breath for 5-10 seconds after a tough point. One player told me it takes him a minute or two to recover.

I only needed to raise my heart rate during the tests to 124 before quitting after one more minute of fast walking. I went to 170 and 155, which was terrific for my age group. I also started taking a baby aspirin a day, and after two weeks of this, I will have had more of those pills than in my entire life. I do like the citrus flavor.

However I really mind being normal and having health issues like everyone else I know. I am not used to it. I am spoiled. I have been blessed with good genes and also consciously avoiding bad foods and habits. In fact my cholesterol went down again to 187 from 196 last year, 218 in 2008, and 237 in 2005, when I first learned I had a problem. Changing my diet and exercising more often has really paid off. But I still have a slight abnormal blockage in one artery it appears.

I know, I know…it’s better than most guys my age. And nothing worth mentioning compared to others with far more serious illnesses, like cancer. Even my dog has cancer, has received chemo treatments for months and has not eaten for almost two weeks now. I thought we might put her down this morning, but we decided to wait another day. These sick friends and relatives have upset me terribly. I have been down and in a funk, though not depressed. It’s so sad, and I hate feeling helpless.

My dog breed’s life expectancy is 12-13 years. Bella is 12 1/2, so she is right on schedule and has had a great life. I can live with her demise more easily. When my father died at 88, I felt like he had also enjoyed a good run. And I have already had 74 years, so I won’t complain. Though when I had my birthday in April, I realized I may have “just” another 10-15 years…until I was shook up in May by my physical.

But it is very upsetting when friends in their early 50s become seriously ill, like one who died a few years ago at 54. I know Life is not fair, but it still pisses me off to see randomness in action. Living is such an uncertain and fragile adventure. Another friend fell two weeks ago and landed on her chest and knees. No broken bones, but she might have hit her head and been seriously injured. Two days ago I fell over a curb inside a restaurant, where it was dark and there was a gap between the potted plants. Luckily I landed on my knees and hand and didn’t shatter my right, tennis wrist.

I never forget that I could be living in a war zone, or starving, or lacking water. My friends from California who stayed with me this weekend were thrilled to take a shower that lasted more than three minutes. We must all savor the good moments.

Bella on Father's Day

Bella on Father’s Day

I will miss many of those I had with Bella, as she chased tennis balls I hit and flushed pheasants I often missed. She has been a loving friend and companion. As the android said in Blade Runner: “Time to die…”

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Insane City Cycling Race In Chile

Positively insane, terrifying, admirable! You cannot believe that people do this kind of downhill street cycling.

This happens on the streets of Valparaiso, Chile. The Valparaiso Cerro Abajo Race is a legendary urban bike race and is more extreme than skydiving out of an exploding F-18 piloted by Charlie Sheen. The rider must brave jumps, stray dogs, and flights of stairs along the steep downhill path. The first person perspective provided by the excellent helmet cam lets us take in every glorious and frightening detail. Do yourself a favor and watch this one in full screen mode.

Also, check out this still-photo roundup from the 2011 race, which was won by Filip Polc

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Bongo Lady Workout

MEMPHIS — The fans who pack FedEx Forum for Grizzlies games never know when it will happen. It could be a timeout late in the second quarter, or a break in the action early in the fourth. It does not even occur every game.

But when it does, and the sweet beat of the Miami Sound Machine hit “Conga” fills the arena, everyone knows to look up toward the giant video board that looms over the court. A set of cartoon bongos appears, and as various fans pop up on the screen in their haphazard attempts to play them, Malenda Meacham, a longtime season-ticket holder, knows that they are merely the warm-up act.

The moment is about to belong to her.

“Bongo Lady,” the Grizzlies’ Tony Allen said, “is my home girl.”

Meacham, 45, might just be the world’s pre-eminent air-bongo impresario. She flails her arms and bobs her head as she plays the heck out of those cartoon bongos, her movements defying easy description.

“I like to think that I play enthusiastically,” she said, “and with aplomb.”

Meacham has become a minor celebrity in Memphis — people familiar with her work usually greet her by shouting something along the lines of “Hey, Bongo Lady!”

“It feels like a workout,” Meacham said. “It’s seriously like I’ve just run a marathon.”

People are generally surprised to learn that Meacham practices domestic law and works as a part-time judge. Yes, Bongo Lady is a judge.

It should be noted that Meacham has no formal musical training. Her bongo wizardry is self-taught. The key, she said, is to stay on the bongos. Too many fans let their hands drift away, which makes their playing look inexact. Meacham strives for authenticity.

“And I don’t even know when Bongo Cam is coming on,” she said, “so I can’t warm up for it.”

As is the case in most great showbiz acts, Meacham has a sidekick: her 18-year-old son, Hayden, who often accompanies her to home games. He did not choose the role. He said he was genuinely mortified by his mother’s behavior.

Hayden was with her the first time the Grizzlies broke out Bongo Cam, during the 2012-13 season. Malenda Meacham heard the music and felt the rhythm, and something compelled her to rise from her seat and start thrashing away. It was unscripted theater.

“Hayden starts going, ‘Dear God, please don’t let them see her,’ ” Meacham said. “He’s next to me, shrinking over, and then the camera catches us.”

In that moment, Bongo Lady was born. By his mother’s third appearance on Bongo Cam that season, Hayden had decided to come prepared. As soon as he heard those familiar lyrics pump through the arena’s speaker system — “Come on, shake your body, baby, do the conga / I know you can’t control yourself any longer” — he put a paper bag over his head.

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How To Celebrate Your Birthday

Yesterday was my 74th birthday. I sat around the house enjoying family and friends. It snowed, I ate poached salmon and wine and carrot cake. Very sweet. Buttttttttt…..

For her 100th birthday, Georgina Harwood jumped out of a plane! It was her third (tandem) jump since she was 92! Now granted that I jumped out of planes five times in the army, when I was 22. So I could say, “Been there, done that.” But I won’t. Georgina earns a “tip of the hat, m’lady…”

And that wasn’t all. Two weeks later, this South African great-grandmother dove in a cage to see sharks up close. She said it was “the experience of a lifetime. Exhilarating.”

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Back From Viewing Japanese Cherry Blossoms

Shinbashi Street is lit up at night for more cherry-blossom viewing

Shinbashi Street is lit up at night for more cherry-blossom viewing

Have returned home after two weeks in Japan, and still jet lagging. Went to visit my son who lives there. Always a challenge to do my daily exercises, especially when traveling 30 hours door-to-door. Am now at 1240 consecutive days.

One day I climbed too many steps of a shrine to the top of the “mountain.” Did it with my daughter, so we bonded in a tiring effort. Took about two hours round trip. Another day our family walked five miles looking at parks, temples and streets festooned with blossoming cherry trees.

Here are some photos:

walking down at last at the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto

walking down at last at the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto

dressing in kimonos is common in Kyoto

dressing in kimonos is common in Kyoto

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100 Years Of Exercise Fads And Styles

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Judgements About Risk And Death

Yesterday’s article about Alex Honnold stimulated many interesting reader comments. Those below are particularly poignant…and even hilarious

ernieh1
Queens, NY

Life is defined by risk. Every time you enter a crosswalk at a busy time of the day, you take a risk. Buy a pack of chicken parts from the meat counter, you take a risk. Sell Apple stock short, you take a risk. So in everyone’s life, the various risks that they take in to survive, or even to find that elusive, probably non-existent thing called “happiness,” is defined by risks.

So any single life is in fact, a “basket” or collection of risks one takes, and those risks define who you are in a fundamental way. What I see is that Mr. Honnold has invested nearly all of his “risk-capital” into one spectacular risk that defines his life the way he wants to live it.

People may think that he is being selfish by not dedicating his life to “helping others,” but that ignores that fact that by pursuing this particular dream or obsession, he is taking a path 180 degrees opposite to that of all the others whose self-interested agendas end up causing misery to others. So by not causing misery to others, he is helping others. “Do no harm.”

I read him as a modern mystic, a fundamentally spiritual man, a monk of mountain-climbing if you will. As such, he has my admiration. The closest I have come to attaining that kind of mystical transcendence by defying the laws of gravity, was when I flew motorless gliders (soaring planes), as a much younger, and if you will, more foolish person.

Now I just meditate on solid ground, but still a mystic of sorts.

Crazy Me
NYC

The world in which we live was made over the last 10,000 years or so by people who were not afraid to fail and not afraid to die. Progress requires going into the unknown and going into the unknown requires risk. There is no such thing as a safe risk. If the next great climber starts on his journey toward doing the impossible as Alex is currently doing because of this article, good for him or her. Freedom allows this next climber to make decisions for himself or herself and to live with the successes and, perhaps, to die with the failures. It is their choice. Good for them whatever their decision.

I broke my leg skiing once. My choice and my fault. No blame goes to the great skiers of the world.

I just made a contribution to the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton team. I know one of the rider’s families and she, like so many of our elite athletes in non-revenue generating sports, can use the support. She flies head first down mountains. Has she been hurt? Yep! Does she get back on the sled? Yep. Does she amaze me? Yep. Is she intelligent enough to make a decision about whether doing this is a good idea? You bet. If she wins her dream is the reward her’s or mine? Hers. All hers. And I will cheer until I am hoarse. If the unthinkable happens and she dies, will I admire her less? Not a bit.

You go boys and you go girls. Show us how to manage the fear that paralyzes we lesser humans and go do the impossible.

Will
New York

To characterize Alex Honnold as “one of the two or three best rock climbers on earth” is, with respect to the author, completely the wrong way to put what Alex does, and I’m a little disappointed that the article barely touches on the psychology of free soloing.

There are many, many rock climbers who are more technically proficient than Alex is (including Kevin Jorgenson and Tommy Caldwell), and are able to climb much harder routes than Alex free solos. However, unlike Alex, they climb with a rope that protects them from falling to their deaths should they make a mistake (which is an extraordinarily sensible thing to have). They have the luxury of not having their climbing mentality impacted by the constant possibility of death. Climbers far “better” than Alex would never be able to climb the comparatively “easy” routes that Alex does, because they just cannot suppress panic/fear the way Alex does — that is, 100.0000% of the time. If you free solo and only seize up from fear of dying one out of every million steps, you’re dead.

What Alex does is beyond “rock climbing.” Free soloing at the level Alex does takes world-class technical climbing skill, for sure, but what matters far more is a mentality to either ignore or perfectly suppress the built in fear-death evolutionary instinct that we’re all supposed to have. For the rest of us, what Alex does is incomprehensible, in the most literal sense of the word.

Ask Save
San Diego, CA

There are old climbers and there are bold climbers, but there are no old bold climbers. Enjoy this while he lasts. Climbing is a ton of fun and a great way to stay in shape, achieve mental clarity, and enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a bummer to see such a great publication glorify unsafe climbers though. NYTimes next “inspiring” article should highlight the world’s best Russian roulette player.

Hotblack Desiato
Magrathea

Good grief these comments depress me. Apparently the only acceptable activity for many these days is one that helps society and involves little risk, which pretty much means that everyone has to be a ticket taker at a merry-go-round. Even then you could get conked on the head by a wooden horse. What to do?

Mark F
Philly

This guy is going to die. He should not be given ANY admiration for the choices in his life — and for the countless choices on vertical rocks he continues to covet and make, climb after climb — that defy logic, commonsense, and, up to now, odds.

There is nothing to admire about choosing death, which will come as the result of one slip or miscalculated move.

No parent, child, spouse, or family dog would — without serious and genuine reservation — support such repeated purposeless risks. Outside of his own personal journey, what’s the point for his family or community?

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Alex Honnold Challenges Death Each Time He Plays

Here are excerpted paragraphs from an amazing and long story about Alex Honnold, one of the world’s two or three greatest rock face climbers. And he does what is called free soloing: no ropes of any kind, neither to help him up or to prevent a fall. He risks death every time. What stands out for me is not just what he does, but that he does not seem to have any fear about doing it. Especially when I am merely trying to not tense up in a game, when I am serving a tennis ball. Both times watching the video I felt my palms go sweaty. Terrifying.

Unroped climbing is, of course, the oldest kind, but ropes and hardware can provide such a reliable safety net that nearly all climbers now use them. This is typically done in pairs, with one climber tied to each end of the rope, moving one at a time.

But using gear slows progress. A roped pair, taking turns climbing and fussing with all that equipment, might spend six hours on a climb that a free-soloist floats up in 30 minutes — focusing purely on the pleasure of movement, the tactile sensation of hands on rock. On cliffs where even elite climbers employ complicated rope systems, the free-soloist wears only shorts, a T-shirt, a pair of climbing shoes and a bag of gymnast’s chalk to keep the hands dry. Honnold has free-soloed the longest, most challenging climbs ever, including the 2,500-foot northwest face of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, where some of the handholds are so small that no average climber could cling for an instant, roped or otherwise. Most peculiar of all, even to elite rock climbers, Honnold does this without apparent fear, as if falling were not possible.

At one level, free-soloing can be seen as the most extreme expression of the same progression: One generation aid-climbs a route, the next climbs it in record time, the next free-climbs it, then it’s time for someone to climb it without ropes. But free-soloing is so much more dangerous and frightening, even to highly experienced climbers, that a vast majority want no part of it.

Climbers know that fear itself can cause a climber to panic on the side of a cliff. To get a sense of the experience, try a thought experiment: Picture hanging from a pull-up bar in a playground, with your toes inches off the ground, and feel the calm security of your grip. Now imagine standing on the edge of a skyscraper with that same pull-up bar suspended at eye level two feet in front of you. Lean forward to grab that bar and let your feet swing free, so that you’re hanging by your hands. Look down. How’s your grip now?

Even if you have perfect confidence in your climbing ability and perfect emotional control in the face of danger, as Honnold appears to, most climbers fear the unexpected: the handhold that suddenly breaks, the bird that erupts from a hidden nest. I was once 50 feet up a Yosemite cliff when thousands of biting ants poured out of the rock to attack my bare arms and legs. Free-soloists also die with alarming regularity.

When I asked Honnold’s mother how she tolerated her son’s climbing life, she told me that at some point she realized that she couldn’t live with worrying all the time. “Alex is the only one on the planet who knows what Alex can do, and I’ve had to learn to just trust that.”

Honnold enters death-fall territory with the same casual deliberateness that someone might apply to arranging knickknacks in a bedroom.

The world’s greatest climbers struggle to make sense of this mysterious sang-froid. “Most of us think dying is a really serious, scary thing, but I don’t think Alex does,” says Caldwell, who has climbed extensively with Honnold and considers him a close friend. “He’s wired a little differently from everybody else. The risk excites him, and he knows it’s super badass, but he doesn’t allow himself to go beyond that in his mind. The other great free-soloists always talk about this conversation with death. Alex is like, ‘I’m not going to fall, it’s no big deal.’ That’s what makes him so good.”

“If I have a particular gift, it’s a mental one,” Honnold wrote. “The ability to keep it together where others might freak out. . . . Whether or not we’re sponsored, the mountains are calling, and we must go.”

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One-Finger Pull Up

Who knew that this was do-able? This video shows how Magnus Midtbo trains for wall and rock face climbing. I looked for this pull up accomplishment after reading about climber Alex Honnold, who could do a one-finger pull up by age 16. I realized climbers needed strong fingers…but this is insane…

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Another Cycle For Survival

Well I did it! Rode in this year’s Cycle for Survival event and helped raise $24,750,000. My Team Evan raised $54,000+ with the addition of our new California group. That’s $76 million since 2007, all for rare cancer research. And from 230 riders the first year to 20,000 in 2015.

riding next to my granddaughter Avery

riding next to my granddaughter Avery

The first 10 minutes were surprisingly hard for me, and I panicked that I wouldn’t be able to cycle for an hour. But then it gradually became easier and demanded less effort. Especially after the half hour mark. I got into the zone, spurred on by the loud music, cheerleaders, instructors’ urgings, and some younger riders around me who were pedaling at twice my speed. I was even howling passionately with the crowd

After the race with Evan and my grandson, Dylan

After the race with Evan and my grandson, Dylan

The hardest part is standing up out of the saddle to climb an imaginary hill. I’d practiced that for a minute here and there at home. But the boot camp, drill instructors had us going up and down every 20 seconds at times. It was exhausting at first…and painful. I could have just stayed seated and pedaled gently the whole time. But I didn’t want to cycle like that. I was determined. I survived my own mini-challenge.

crazy mad cheerleaders keep the riders pumped

crazy mad cheerleaders keep the riders pumped

Thank you all for your contributions and words of encouragement. They really helped motivate me. Now I can put away the bike for another year…

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Some Good Exercise Ideas

It sounds like a bad infomercial: Get ripped in less time! We’re conditioned to believe that jaw-dropping, body-transforming results are achieved only by putting in the hours. But if you’ve been adhering to the muscle-isolating back-and-bi, chest-and-tri gospel, the truth is, you’re doing it wrong.

“Your brain doesn’t think in single ‘muscles,’ it thinks in terms of movement patterns,” says Pat Davidson, Ph.D., director of training methodology at Peak Performance, a private fitness studio in New York City. “Human evolution led to five basic movements, which encompass nearly all of our everyday motions.” Meaning your workout needs just five exercises, one from each of these categories: push (pressing away from you), pull (tugging toward you), hip-hinge (bending from the middle), squat (flexing at the knee), and plank (stabilizing your core).

It’s the approach Davidson takes when drawing up the regimens of Peak’s celebrity clients, including Gerard Butler, 50 Cent, and Jimmy Fallon. The time-crunched love it because it’s an efficient and effective workout—more taxing on the muscles, leading to increased strength and a faster metabolism. Plus, you’re not lost when your trainer isn’t around. “If you know the basics, it’s incredibly simple to build your own workout,” Davidson says.

Still—like martinis and porn—there can be too much of a good thing. “It’s stressful to the entire body,” says Jason Hartman, trainer to many U.S. Olympic bobsled and skeleton athletes and the U.S. Army Special Forces. “That means that if you overdo them, you’ll just beat yourself up. Do this style of workout no more than three or four times a week.” Mix and match the moves at right and feel okay about taking the less-time-consuming way out.

• • •

How It Works

Pick one move from each of these categories. Then do 2 sets of 12 reps. Change up the moves but repeat the plan 3 or 4 times a week. For cardio extra credit, see the add-ons below.

PUSH
The Ultimate: Bench Press
Lie face-up on a bench, holding a heavy barbell at your sternum, hands shoulder-width apart, elbows bent into sides. Extend arms, pushing bar directly above chest. Pause, then lower barbell to start.
The Alternates: Push-up, dumbbell shoulder press, single-arm kettlebell press, push press

PULL
The Ultimate: Pull-up
Hang from a bar with palms facing away from you, arms straight, knees bent so feet don’t touch floor. Bend elbows, pulling chest toward bar. Slowly lower yourself to start.
The Alternates: Dumbbell row, TRX row, chin-up, cable row, lat pull-down

HIP-HINGE
The Ultimate: Deadlift
Set a heavy barbell on the floor in front of you. Push hips back as you bend forward, grabbing the bar with hands more than shoulder-width apart, palms facing body. Keep back straight as you stand up, lifting the bar and thrusting hips forward. Slowly lower bar to start.
The Alternates: Kettlebell swing, Romanian deadlift, trap-bar deadlift

SQUAT
The Ultimate: Split Squat
Stand on your right leg, left foot resting on a bench or box behind you, and hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand. Bend right knee, lowering body until left knee hovers just above the ground. Straighten right leg, returning to start. Complete all the reps on one side before switching legs.
The Alternates: Barbell squat, lunge, goblet squat, reverse lunge

PLANK
The Ultimate: Farmer’s Walk
Stand up straight holding a heavy dumbbell in each hand, palms facing body. Maintain your posture as you walk 20 meters. Turn, repeat, returning to start.
The Alternates: Plank, bird dog, side plank, suitcase carry

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1200 Consecutive Days That I Have Exercised

Well here I am over three years later reporting that I have exercised at least five minutes every day. Usually it’s 10 minutes, and sometimes over 20. It’s an achievement that I absolutely must do, in spite of how inconvenient it is. Especially when I procrastinate getting to this minimal workout and am starving. Have to exercise AFTER I eat. Also when I am camping out (like in Mongolia) or traveling overseas.

But I don’t give in. I am not going to break this chain of consecutive days.

I also started getting in shape for my annual Cycle for Survival, one-hour spinning ride. Now that is something I really have to work at. 45-minutes or an hour seems like forever…remember that I am also playing tennis 3-5 times a week, and I don’t count those sessions as my required daily exercise.

Push-ups, Pec flys, wall sits, planks, squats with weights, and abs crunches are what I usually do. Sometimes I use the rowing machine at home. And I certainly count snow shoveling, which usually takes 30-60 minutes. That can be exhausting.

It’s mostly a discipline practice. But it does feel good when it’s over.

I also have the satisfaction of having inspired a few others to do their 5-15 each day…and their efforts have inspired others they know. Are you interested? It’s a challenge…

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Of Course Sugar Is A Drug

Here is a very damning article about sugar. It’s an interview with Robert H Lustig, a medical expert at the University of California. Some of the excerpts below are scary.

The Wall Street Journal asked Americans what are the most dangerous of four substances in America: tobacco, 49 percent; alcohol, 24 percent; sugar, 15 percent; and then marijuana, 8 percent. Sugar was doubly worrisome to Americans than marijuana was. How about that?

Sugar is the alcohol of a child. You would never let a child drink a can of Budweiser, but you would never think twice about a can of Coke. Yet what it does to the liver, what it does to the arteries, what it does to the heart is all the same. And that’s why we have adolescents with type 2 diabetes.

There are three negative biochemical effects sugar has on the body:

One, fructose, the sweet molecule in sugar, is not metabolized like glucose. It’s metabolized in the mitochondria, and it is metabolized in the liver to liver fat. That liver fat mucks up the workings of the liver and leads to a process called insulin resistance. That raises your insulin levels because your pancreas has to make more insulin. That drives all the chronic metabolic diseases we know about, plus it burns out the pancreas, leading to diabetes.

Two, cellular aging. When bananas ripen, they brown. The sugar in the bananas binds to proteins in the bananas nonenzymatically, even in dead tissue. That’s called the cellular aging or Maillard reaction. That happens to everyone all the time, so we brown inside. You don’t want to brown very fast, but we’re all browning because that’s how we age. But sugar makes us brown seven times faster; it basically kills our organs quicker.

Three, sugar is addictive. So a little makes you want more, because of the effect of the reward center of the brain.

For other drugs of abuse, we limit them in various ways. If they’re legal drugs of abuse, we make them expensive and we have all sorts of restrictions on access. But for sugar we have nothing. We give it to newborns, we give it to two-year-olds, we have it at birthday parties and at school, etc. So we have a nation of childhood addicts; just walk into any supermarket and watch these kids nag their parents for the stuff. That’s why we should regulate it.

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How To Upgrade Your Life By Improving Your Tennis

Once again I find myself attempting to modify my tennis performance and seeing analogous challenges and obstacles off the court in my daily life. It shouldn’t be so hard to make changes in both worlds…but it is. I think I understand why. But I can’t accept it.

For example I watch tennis coach videos and take lessons in which I have been told for years to “keep eye on ball” and follow through. I struggle with both instructions. I look to see where the ball is going more than 65% of the time before I hit it, EVEN WHEN SERVING! And right from the beginning I was taught to complete my forehand with the racket touching my left shoulder…but it often ends up pointing over the net three feet in front of my body.

Ridiculous. But the facts.

Now I can blame improper muscle memory, ADD, eagerness to see the results, lack of concentration. I can say I started playing too late in life, haven’t practiced each stroke 10,000 times, or had a messed up childhood. A neuroscientist on the radio the other day said that if you lacked certain “normal” parts of your upbringing, the circuits in your brain don’t wire up so stably that you will function successfully as a late teen. If, for example, you were raised by a single parent, there is a greater likelihood of depression and suicide.

Other less traumatic early experiences certainly influence how we turn out as adults. However I believe we can overcome those childhood neural wirings. How to do that more easily and faster is the challenge I am facing.

Hitting a better forehand is not in the same league as suicide. Nor is my difficulty in resisting sugar. Others smoke, take harmful drugs, drink excessively, blurt out words they regret, abuse people though they know it is wrong. We learn what we “should” do. So why can’t we stop ourselves from taking actions that are bad for us or harmful to others.

There is a whole school of thought suggesting that the mind and body are connected. If you are having trouble with the former, affect it by focusing on the latter. For example if you are anxious, you can go to a shrink. But alternatively you can plunk your body on the floor, breathe slowly and meditate. That might also calm you down.

My forehand problem is already a body problem, and I see that the mental input is having almost no lasting effect. Changing old ingrained habits is way too difficult. Creating a new muscle memory pattern is a better approach, but it also needs to be accompanied by thousands of repetitions. I don’t see that the brain can change the body’s motions with only a new idea. I wish it could.

One coach says you have to take tiny steps that are more like progressive drills. Practice a bit of the stroke…then another fragment…still a third piece and then put them all together in a smooth motion.

Stopping smoking or drinking or eating too much food by going cold turkey (just ceasing all of the habit suddenly) is generally thought too difficult. Winding down the undesired action by cutting back gradually is a common approach. However I continue to read that people who lose weight generally put it back on. It’s too hard to give up those overlarge portions over time.

Why is that? Do we really as a culture eat excessively, because we want to be heavy, sick, unable to move comfortably and eager to shorten our lives with bad diets? We dull our senses to remove ourselves from the pain of the world…But those drinks relax us as well, make life more pleasant and less anxious. Some drugs actually enhance our senses.

So just hearing the words…even knowing and believing that you should change your actions… doesn’t seem like enough to easily do the trick. On the other hand, with education and media attention, some people have stopped smoking…or smoking as much…and others have changed their diets to become healthier. Millions haven’t.

The conclusion is that verbal advice usually doesn’t alter the recipient’s behavior permanently, even if change is a serious goal. It doesn’t happen in life and it is proving abysmally hard in tennis. If I can find the magic connection in which words and thoughts can modify my tennis actions, I will have a real edge in improving my behavior off the court.

For now I know to keep trying, believe that it is possible, practice small drills to create new muscle memory, cheer the few successes, never give up and accept that it takes years to do anything right. Then I will have a great tennis stroke and can start working on the rest of my life.

Now if I live to 100, everything will be perfect. Or I will die before I am perfect, but proud that I kept making the effort.

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Keep Moving

I went to the doctor this week to be examined for a possible hernia…or a kidney stone…or a tumor. I felt tenderness and slight discomfort after straining myself lifting weights. But after 17 days it had all gone away. My doctor is always supportive. He sees so many men my age who are in such worse shape that I always hear the same reaction: “You are doing fine, great…don’t worry about anything. Keep doing what you are doing.”

Then I mentioned how I had hurt my back as well and felt really uncomfortable rising from a bed or chair. How I couldn’t sit for more than a few minutes in one position while driving. And then I would reach the tennis court and start playing…and within minutes I wasn’t even aware of any problem. I wouldn’t even think about it until the match was over.

Movement is everything, the doc told me. Keep moving to improve blood flow, warmth, oxygen.

It reminded me of what I once read about the famous cellist, Pablo Casals, who was so arthritic he could barely move around, dress himself or use his hands. But then he would shuffle to the piano or cello, slowly arrange himself and start playing effortlessly and smoothly. His body would transform into suppleness and ease. The link above refers to Norman Cousins great book, Anatomy of an Illness, which illustrates the power of the body over the mind.

Here is someone else’s version of those passages:

The following is a description of the ninety year old musician Pablo Casals:

Upon rising in the morning,…Casals dressed with difficulty. He suffered from emphysema and apparent rheumatoid arthritis. “He was badly stooped. His head was pitched forward and he walked with a shuffle. His hands were swollen and his fingers were clenched.” Then, playing Bach on the piano before breakfast, Casal’s fingers unlocked, his back straightened, and he seemed to breath more freely. Next, playing Brahms, “his fingers, now agile and powerful, raced across the keyboard with dazzling speed. His entire body seemed fused with the music; it was no longer stiff and shrunken, but supple and graceful and completely freed of its arthritic coils.” Having finished at the keyboard, Casals stood up, straighter and taller than before. “He walked to breakfast with no trace of a shuffle, ate heartily, talked animatedly, finished the meal, then went for a walk on the beach.”

Tennis is my cello…should be a book title.

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Brittany’s Ab

Brittany has three kids

Brittany has three kids

Brittany Martinez has three kids and also one big ab…like many women who work out, but don’t have the definition men’s bodies display. Nevertheless, her mid-section looks great. She is an event coordinator who was a house guest on the Big Brother TV show.

I found this photo in a gallery prepared by CBS to promote its TV stars and guests. I am always amazed and amused that abs are singled out, even when there aren’t any. So many of these photo collections just show flat stomach areas. I can’t understand why that qualifies for anything. Some of the choices are actually pudgy!

But at my stage and age, I feel I can be picky. Making abs takes lots of work and commitment. It’s very difficult. Why should we applaud abs that are so covered up as to be invisible?

By the way, below is one of the half dozen photos from the gallery of 30 that shows some abs. See the difference in men! Many of the others are going to make you laugh at what they are not showing. Just hype to promote their peeps.

Devin Shepherd

Devin Shepherd

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Changing Challenges

I am constantly impressed by how incredibly difficult it is to change familiar habits, patterns and strategies. In fact it drives me crazy, when I experience this challenge constantly on the tennis court. It also makes me assume it is just as big an obstacle in daily life, whether we are talking about how to treat your loved ones better, make money, win friends, follow a new career path.

Somehow I believe intuitively it shouldn’t be so damn hard. But it definitely is for me. I took four tennis lessons in the last 30 days…I watched some videos from a different tennis guru that taught me a new serve and forehand and backhand…and I can’t make my body execute them 95% of the time. We are not even talking about a strategy, like lobbing instead of hitting a ground stroke. That I can remember to do sometimes, especially when I started playing with a lob queen and read after ungodly frustration that I should be lobbing back, instead of attempting a passing shot by the net man.

But it is almost impossible for me to make my arms follow though and bring that racket over my left shoulder. Or to complete a backhand in the (baseball umpire and Stan Wawrinka) “Safe” position. Why so tough? I don’t know.

I watch myself not able to perform as if I am an alien inside someone else’s body. I tell my self to follow through…and then I don’t. Or to turn sideways…and then don’t. Or to keep my eye on the ball EVEN WHEN I SERVE…and then I don’t! Unbelievable.

I have read that it is so hard to change habits (without trauma) that the best solution is to create a new habit. 10,000 swings or balls hit using the new habit. But who has time for that? Not me. I am playing tennis four times a week recently, so you’d think I am getting enough practice. I hit practice serves after the games. But it still isn’t happening. What will it take to make the change?

Is it just me? My athletic or aged pea brain? Is it so shriveled up that it can’t absorb new instructions? I would never believe that!

I know I have to keep trying. I know that I am driven to improve. I know that I have succeeded before to change careers, where I live, how I live (from city to country). So I am optimistic–even confident–that I can do it. But as of yesterday’s match, it still wasn’t happening. I am impatient and frustrated. Stay tuned…

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Tim Howard Promotes Ink Not Mink

Tim Howard's abs and tats revealed for PETA

Tim Howard’s abs and tats revealed for PETA

Tim Howard, a star goalkeeper for Everton and the US international soccer teams, was chosen by charity PETA to front their new “Ink not Mink” campaign. Clever headline. Look at those abs and other muscles bulging out of those incredible tattoos.

Howard was Man of the Match twice in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Games. PETA stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“Protecting animals is very important to me, and I think speaking out against fur is an amazing cause”, Tim said.

“When I see someone wearing fur, I just want to sit them down in front of one of PETA’s videos and show them just how badly animals suffer for this supposed fabric that no one needs.”

Tim has a reputation for playing through pain. In September 2007 he accepted a call-up from the United States for a friendly against Brazil, and after an hour of the game his finger was dislocated in a collision. In March 2013, during an FA Cup game against Oldham Athletic he broke two bones in his back. In both incidents, he continued playing until the final whistle. Makes mentioning my little aches definitely embarrassing.

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Jennifer Lopez Works Out And Watches Diet

J-Lo Abs look good

J-Lo Abs look good

Jennifer Lopez’s abs made an appearance in West Hollywood, California. The singer was spotted pulling a tank top over her purple sports bra and black leggings outside the gym.

In May, Lopez revealed she tried the 22-day vegan diet that Beyonce and Jay Z completed last year.

“I did the vegan 22-day plan and it was really good, and I kept on with it for a few more weeks and now I’ve incorporated a little bit of fish here and there,” she told Ryan Seacrest. “But I’ve got to tell you, I enjoy it. I enjoy eating that way. I never did and I didn’t know how good you can feel when you put healthy stuff in your body. I was so used to just eating the way I grew up.”

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Weight Loss Challenges

I have been bumping into so much discussion about how to lose weight. Yesterday on the radio, Kirstie Alley said she always ate large portions, was very athletic and had no overweight problems. Then she turned 53, and ballooned up for no special reason. I wrote about her in 2011. She had jumped to 230 pounds from 143…and then she lost 75 pounds, gained 75, etc. The key question is how to lose it and keep it off?

So today I read an article suggesting that you lose more weight from exercise in a warm setting than a cold one, because you eat less after the workout.

The comments are illuminating. One says you can’t lose weight from exercise alone:

I have done a lot of research into clinical trials regarding exercise and weight loss. The general theme is around 25% of individuals GAIN weight with exercise. Another 25% remain weight stable. The remainder may lose paltry amounts…or up to 10-15 pounds…only if sustained. The tale is worse for women.

Exercise has been shown to be fairly pathetic for weight loss. Begin with diet.

Another says you have to do larger amounts of calorie burn through exercise and also agrees that diet is important:

What has been shown to be “pathetic” for weight loss is doing a very small dose of exercise. The vast majority of research studies only have persons exercising about 1-3 hours a week and therefore burning only at most about 200 calories a day. Most dieters in these studies are producing deficits of between 500 and 1000 calories a day- no wonder “diet” looks better. As I quoted below, this study showed that when calorie deficits are matched, exercise brings the same amount of weight loss. Of course the exercise has to be at a much higher dose- at least an hour a day of fairly intense exercise http://www.nature.com/nrendo/journal/v3/n7/full/ncpendmet0554.html

Possibly people who gain weight from exercise are those doing this paltry amount of exercise and thinking they are burning more calories than they are, and therefore they overcompensate by eating too much. Studies also show that at whatever kind of diet that is done, 95% regain all their weight within five years- and low carb diets also don’t bring lasting weight loss. Dieting without any exercise necessitates drastic calorie reduction, which is not sustainable for most people. Exercise is an indisputable factor in keeping weight off. My citation explored many studies which show this. I exercise at least an hour everyday and this helped to lose 100 pounds and continuing to exercise has helped me to keep every pound off going on 5 years.

It’s a huge challenge for most people, especially when most can’t do an intense hour workout each day. But I am still convinced from all I have learned that healthier, low fat/low sugar/low carb diet plus exercise is needed to lose weight and keep it off.

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Fears And Injuries Off The Couch

In the last few months, I have been unusually active, mostly on the tennis courts…sometimes four consecutive days a week, as I am asked to sub. These efforts are in addition to my daily indoor exercises for 10-20 minutes. The result has been fear and injuries.

I was bitten by a tick before I went overseas and worried that the aches in my shoulders and knees were signs of Lyme disease. It may have been weight lifting.

Then I went tobogganing and crashed…discovered a bruised, purple toe that I thought was broken. But it wasn’t, and the pain quickly became mere discomfort and then went away.

I did some crossfit squats with weights and strained something near my groin…so I worried that I had a hernia (the doctor told me what to look for and concluded via my telephone call that it wasn’t that), but I also worried that I might have the beginnings of cancer!

I did some rowing and lat pulldowns on machines in a Florida hotel gym and hurt my back…couldn’t walk straight…hunched over and constantly hurting, whether lying down or sitting up. But after two hot showers a day and some gentle stretching, I was able to play tennis anyway.

I also took four tennis lessons in Florida, where it was incredibly humid and 80 degrees. One time I was way past exhaustion and was determined not to stop before my hour was over. I did worry that I would pass out–but not die on the court, like some other players I have heard about back home.

I hate all these injuries. I hate my fear of being struck down at any time by over exertion or disease that might be deadly. Yet I realize that I am bringing all these risks on myself by choosing to rise up off the couch in the first place. It is an expected result.

Yes the sports are fun. Yes a walk in the woods exposes me to ticks. Yes gym exercises can lead to muscle strain. What other option is there? I sit enough at the desk and watching TV as it is.

Life is always a compromise. You always pay a price. But I often wonder if I am smart about it. The fact that I can do it all, when others my age are using walkers and canes, forces me to take advantage of my abilities, while I have them. It would be such a waste to just sit, when I don’t have to.

And the injuries are so minor compared to others with real illnesses and handicaps, that I simply can’t whine about a little discomfort. So I keep exerting and risking and enjoying and loving a great tennis shot, higher weight on the machine, or a new muscle definition. I guess that’s what makes me who I am, even if some people find my achievements and abilities annoying.

Use it or lose it…and don’t whine or complain out loud.

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Your Sugar Addiction

This article has stunning, mind-numbing information. Especially upsetting to read this at Christmas holiday time, when so much candy, pies and other sweets are everywhere.

As someone with a sweet tooth, I have to reconsider…but that doesn’t mean I can easily change my behavior.

Sugar is addictive. And we don’t mean addictive in that way that people talk about delicious foods. We mean addictive, literally, in the same way as drugs. And the food industry is doing everything it can to keep us hooked…

The average American consumes anywhere from a quarter to a half pound of sugar a day. If you consider that the added sugar in a single can of soda might be more than most people would have consumed in an entire year, just a few hundred years ago, you get a sense of how dramatically our environment has changed…

A comparison to drugs would not be misplaced here. Similar refinement processes transform other plants like poppies and coca into heroin and cocaine. Refined sugars also affect people’s bodies and brains…

And here are two of the comments: 4 grams = 1 teaspoon. I can only beg each of you to teach your children, your relatives, and your friends that 4gms = 1tsp. Thus the supposedly healthy little lo-fat (boo) strawberry yogurt with 28 gms of sugar has 7 TEASPOONS of sugar in that tiny carton…

Yes, sugar is addictive. Yes, too much sugar is bad for your health. And, yes, we, Westerners, eat too much sugar. But clearly the negative health effects of our sugar addiction are not so great that we aren’t, for the most part, living incredibly long lives. So people please cut back on the sugar by all means, but also cut back on the panic, moral outrage, and self-righteous condemnation of others’ habits. Life is good.

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