THE INTRODUCTORY SENTENCES of Michael Easter’s article for menshealth.com, “The 20-5-3 Rule Prescribes How Much Time To Spend Outdoors”, might stop some readers in their tracks or cause them to turn and run for cover. Experiencing extreme nature is not my thing and I nearly clicked off the site immediately. I had pictured an Rx that might call for walks along the beach or snowshoe sessions In the nearby state park, not excursions to the wilds of Alaska facing wild caribou.
However, by the time I reached the fifth paragraph I was convinced this piece had useful information. Easter consulted a neuroscientist who provided her expert opinion on how to understand the human need and requirement for time in the natural world. Dr. Rachel Hopman used the concept of a “nature pyramid”, likening it to the food pyramid, to help conceptualize how much time of each level of natural world exposure is best for our health.
Easter details her three prescribed time segments: 20 minutes for 3 times per week in outdoor nature setting like a city park; 5 hours a month in a semi-wild environment like a state park; and 3 days per year in the wilderness. The wilder the better the PhD expert recommended, with phones turned off in each setting to avoid negating the affects of such sessions.
The article introduced new perspectives about nature’s benefits to those who enter wild spaces without the distractions of technology. To learn about the state of “soft fascination” that humans enter and our engulfment in “fractals” in the outdoors check out the full story!
[Hopman’s explanation of fractals, design patterns of “organized chaos” that can be seen in the way trees branch, clouds form, and mountain ranges are scaled, jogged a childhood memory. I recalled viewing the outdoors through prescription eyeglasses for the very first time. In the 4th grade, I could suddenly make out individual leaves on trees, rather than see them as uniform areas of greenery on the tops of brown tree trunks. To this day I remember the joy of this experience. Since then, until this day, as soon as single tree leaf outlines begin to blur, I know it is time for a lens change and a visit to the ophthalmalogist.]
What if the prescribed times and experiences are beyond practical reach? Remember that researchers attempt to find differences between control and study populations. The cut-off times that might be expected to result in benefits versus no benefits from wild nature setting experiences are their best guesses based on the data collected. It's possible that less time will still boost our health and wellbeing.
My take is that now, when outdoors, I should attempt to maximize each experience, being careful to see the design patterns, hear the sounds, and breathe in the scents of the surrounding natural elements; and feel the weather too at those times. To try immersing my senses in all that the outdoor “wilderness” is delivering at the moment.
Perhaps a heightened, conscious enjoyment of nature during outdoor sessions will fully nurture mind, body, and spirit, even if the number of minutes, hours, and days falls short of the current recommended prescription.
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
AT A CERTAIN AGE PEOPLE TEND TO TALK ABOUT STAIRS as if they were the worst feature a house could possess. The living situation of have “everything on one floor” is oftentimes described as the ideal by 50+ year aged adults.
Laundry rooms in new construction homes are placed on the ground/main floor to attract buyers who aspire to this living standard. Only guest bedrooms are permitted to occupy a lower walk-out level. Mostly this view appears to be held by adults who wish to downscale from larger family residences once gown children have moved away into their own dwellings. The one-level living-space floor design seems especially important for those who aspire to relocate to a distant retirement spot.
Or so it seems to me, having entered that demographic years ago. I’ve never heard a “hot” home on the market described in terms that gush about this feature, as in: “it has multiple levels and stairs, stairs, and even more stairs”.
However living in a home that requires frequent stair climbing, with many opportunities to do so each day may have health benefits. Not just once a week level-changing to perform laundry chores, but stair climbing that is built into many daily routines, like selection of clothing from an upstairs bedroom closet or chest of drawers, retrieval of food items or cooking utensils from a basement pantry, and access to and from transportation in a lower-level garage.
Populations have been identified with low rates of chronic disease who live longer than anywhere else in the world. They reside in certain geographic areas designated as “Blue Zones”. Much of the good health of these BZ inhabitants is thought due to their diets and active lifestyles, with only about 20-30% due to gene inheritance. Author Dan Beuttner wrote about 5 specific Blue Zones, in his book of the same name, that are home to the world’s oldest people: a region in Sardinia (Italy), Icaria (Greece), Okinawa (Japan), the Nicoyan Peninsula (Costa Rica), and Loma Linda, California (USA).
Blue Zone people tend to live in island locations with hilly or mountainous terrain and few if any formal fitness centers. A study that sampled men of Sardinia showed their long lives were predicted by the “amount of distance walked and stories climbed each day”, according to an article in Healthline.com.
Results from a 12+ year-long study of male Harvard Alumni aged 60-71.6 years found that that habitual stair climbing could contribute to lowered mortality from all causes. The study, in which participants self-reported the number of floors climbed per week as well as other physical activity, could not find a link between the number of stories ascended and lowered deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD). The authors theorized the results reflected early signs of fraility from CVD that prevented this activity.
Which brings up the point that to be able to climb stairs or scale steep slopes throughout the entire day with vigor, a person must be healthy. Thus, regular stair climbing is perhaps a habit that must be adopted early in life if it is to be continued into later life, and that effort must be made to remain strong enough, when possible, to retain this capability.
Whether stair climbing is truly a method of extending longevity and health or rather a sign of health that allows a longer, functional life, you might wish to take advantage of your own in-house flights. That’s according to an article posted by the Mayo Clinic, “Step It Up: Seven Quick Stair Exercises to Do at Home”.
A more challenging leg strength workout is offered by trailrunnermag.com in the “Three Minute Mountain Legs” routine authored by David Roche. The embedded YouTube video demonstrates two simple exercises, the Single-Leg Rear Lunge (20-50 per leg) and Single-Leg Step Ups (30-100 per leg). Because each is performed on one leg, balance will be improved over time too. The article suggests holding on to a railing or side support at first but indicates that hip strength increases can permit unsupported movements with continued training. As the trainer remarks in the video, these moves are tougher than they seem!
Homes with stairs can be seen as disadvantageous living quarters and avoided. Or potentially they might also be recruited early in life to function as built-in pieces of gym equipment and ultimately assist over time with healthy “aging in place”.
Check out the stair climbing exercise and Blue Zone articles to investigate further.
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
“REMEMBERING WHY” AND “KEEP GOING " QUOTES: “Whatever it was”, Amanda Brooks writes in her email newsletter “Run To The Finish”, that motivated runners to take “that first step and keep going”, sometimes we need help remembering it, when we lose sight of that reason and the heart to continue.
Runners and non-runners who work to improve performance and health through physical activity and training might find inspiration from the words of others. Especially when enthusiasm dips, progress stalls, and meeting such goals seem less achievable.
Although Brooks’ newsletter post provides multiple offerings in several categories, which include Marathon Training; Personal Growth; Keep Going; and Remembering Why, readers don’t need to be to runners or training for a marathon to discover a saying that’s personally up lifting.
I liked Meb Keflezighi’s perspective on running, found in the “Remembering Why“ category. “Most of us have enough areas in our lives where we have to meet others’ expectations. Let your running be about your own hopes and dreams,” the great Olympic marathoner urges.
My barrier to fulfilling running hopes and dreams is avoidance of non-running work. I have no problem getting out and running; it’s support work that I put off, even though doing so can be a dream ending habit. Part of the problem is that the consequences of neglecting important training program components like strength training, balance work, and recovery activities aren’t experienced immediately. Instead, barely perceptible discomforts sneak into legs and hips, core, and even shoulders after months or even weeks. These physical twinges are signaling that risk of sidelining injury is increasing. In the past I would ignore them and suffer a setback. Now I know it’s wisest to back off and take a break.
But recurrent running breaks, cycles of stopping and re-starting to prevent injury, are motivation killers when they interrupt a many-months-long training program designed to prepare for a specific goal event.
I have learned, after experiencing a variety of soft tissue problems (almost anything doesn’t involve an injury to bone), that the way to avoid such preventative cycling is to faithfully perform non-running work. To be smart about enjoying the fun of running while embracing the training that safely allows it. To find inspiration to perform the grit-your-teeth-and get-it done sessions that keep me on track for success. But easier said than done!!!
Right now, I’m training to complete a 26.3-mile distance in the FIRST EVER VIRTUAL Boston Marathon. In 2021 the famed footrace of elites is scheduled to be held in October rather than April and to include a field of virtual runners, including me, who don’t qualify by time but by merely paying a registration fee.
It’s a so very exciting yet scary opportunity, as the calendar change is a big hurdle. For me, cold weather training for a spring race is physically far easier than hot weather training for one in the autumn. And socially easier too; the winter is a more isolating and quiet time, during which adhering to a strict exercise and nutrition program is less difficult. Summertime means vacations, visits from loved ones, and weekend gatherings. Marathon preparation programs in which progressively longer mileage sessions and their accompanying physical demands build week by week are not much fun. In this summer season full of fun temptations abound to stray and break from the rigid regimen.
But participating in this year’s virtual Boston race will be the closest I will ever, ever come to completing the real iconic annual event. I signed up as soon as registration opened because there was no way I wanted to miss it. Adhering to the marathon training program is crucial in these few months prior to race day, October 11
When Amanda Brooks’ newsletter article arrived by email, I hoped it would include a much-needed inspirational boost. It did. Meb’s encouragement was a reminder that the 2021 Virtual Boston Marathon provides me with a one-time chance to race “Boston”. And that to be healthy to run it, I’ll need to train wisely to find my own way to success, avoiding breaks by adhering to a sound non-running workout schedule.
I also need to face the possibility I won’t be ready on race day. Adapting a schedule to one that enables slower progression to longer mileage weeks in August-September-October and allows greater recovery time (like Meb suggests for older runners) could mean it won’t be safe to cover the marathon distance on that exact calendar date of the premiere New England event. Quite possibly (oh no!!!) my race day will be a week or more later.
This is the tough decision that Keflezighi’s quote will hopefully guide me to make when the time comes, to follow my dream of completing this virtual marathon yet not trying to meet others’ expectations of doing so on the official day. I’m almost embarrassed to admit contemplating this move. Every other virtual participant will be planning to run on THE DAY, along with the rest of the real field of runners.
However, in my heart I am with the rest of the field EVERY DAY during these training months and that form of comradery will need to suffice if I am to avoid sidelining injury and be well enough to go the distance.
Another quote, from Amby Burfoot in the “Keep Going” category in the Brooks’ piece, was a reminder that my struggle with difficult workouts and recovery efforts, specifically non-running training, of necessity will be an integral part of the accomplishment. “Winning has nothing to do with racing. Most days don’t have races anyway. Winning is about struggle and effort and optimism, and never, ever, ever giving up.”
Struggle on with your challenge, whatever it is, and believe that with “effort and optimism,” it will bring a personal win. Perhaps you’ll find inspiring and encouraging quotes in Brooks piece to help you through your struggle.
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
YIKES! It’s been nearly 4 months since the last EARNED RUNS post. What happened?
Well…. life. In 2020 and the early months of 2021, instead of being able to focus on fitness challenges, our world has had to contend with the unprecedented challenge of fighting a rapidly spreading and deadly infectious disease. Before this time, we may have encountered the word “pandemic” in a movie, game, or book title, not as one that described an event that suddenly governed how we lived, day by day.
Fortunately, since the problem was identified in the winter of 2020, astounding advances in medical science, the work of brilliant researchers, and the dedicated efforts of health specialists, governments, and ordinary everyday ‘heroes’ across the globe, have led to the development, production, and administration of vaccines that can slow and potentially halt disease transmission.
Perhaps we may be able to envision a return to a more normal life, albeit with changed perspectives. However, even as this post is being readied for uploading, increasing concerns of continued infection means such optimism may be premature. It’s still a wait and see situation.
Despite continued worries, Earned Runs will work to slowly get back on track over the remainder of the summer of 2021 with regular postings. The outlook will be tempered by the experience of the pandemic, but hopeful, urging a resumption or initiation of athletic physical activity to balance lives that may have been unsettled by uncertainty, anxiety, and precaution-taking. Such activity may possibly help to heal the small and large hurts suffered over the past months. Whether striving to meet self-determined goals or competing with others to improve fitness and performance, these are manageable challenges unlike those we faced these past, long, dark months.
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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