Sunday, June 24, 2012

Do We Live In An "Obesogenic" Environment? A Qualified Yes, and You Can Do Something About It

This article is a pretty good summation of a vast report issued by the U.S. Institute of Medicine on America's obesity problem. The problem is "baked into" society by the poor design of living systems – not enough opportunites to walk, cycle, eat good food – a so-called obesogenic system.

The stats are sobering. 34 percent of U.S. citizens are obese and 67 percent are either obese or overweight. The trends say that by 2030, unless the conditions are reversed, more than 75 percent of people will be obese or overweight.

The reason I say a "qualified yes" is partly based on the approach to fitness I advocate in my book. Sure, the influences of western society are bad, "obesogenic," so you have to tweak your lifestyle – stand more, only take the stairs, take walk breaks at work, use the company weight facility, avoid refined sugar and flour, etc. etc. – to defend yourself, your health, against these influences.

Play tough defense, like Spain's soccer team!

American society is often vapid, overly acquisitive, noisy, and crass (as well as obesogenic), but that doesn't mean that you have to become vapid, overly acquisitive, well, you get the point. Health is cultural, and we have to learn different habits, and teach our children and loved ones better habits and techniques.

Another interesting point the IOM report makes is that the subsidized farming of crops like wheat and the corn for high-fructose corn syrup prohibits the use of the same land for healthier crops such as fruits and vegetables. This is another institutional dysfunction that may make it harder for people to eat real food.

Now for the gratuitous travelogue part of this post: a picture of the Matterhorn I took, a lifelong dream to see the MH once on a nice day. Since being in the Alps, my family's undifferentiated movement has increased substantially, because walking (often up steep hills), biking, swimming in the numerous lakes, and ambling over to the train are baked into these towns and villages, like they're not in the U.S.

I've seen groups of old people riding bikes and hiking up steep mountains. Switzerland is a prosperous and well-educated society (the vast majority I would describe as solid middle class, despite the stereotype), so it might not be fair to compare with the U.S. (isn't that sad to say that about modern America?). But they have an obesity rate of 7.7 percent, compared with 30.6 percent in the U.S.

Chew on these statistics from the CIA World Factbook. And believe me, they love their bread and sugar here in the Alps. Apparently, they generally don't binge on it, and their oscillating movement throughout the day is better than most.

With many small-scale exceptions (e.g., cool towns in the rocky mountains and sun-belt), the U.S. is a car-obsessed Fast Food Nation, so cultural aspects have contributed mightily to the undoing of our average fitness levels.

This picture shows me and my son setting off for an extremely short jaunt at 12,500 feet at the end of a cable car in Zermatt. I hope the weather holds up for my upcoming climbs so I can post some pictures later.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Travel and Exercise Tip: Workout of The Day, With Family

Here's what I did today in a little flat we're staying in while in Europe. I started with an inverted plank for more than two minutes, then did 20 inverted push-ups. The rain is pounding down in buckets right now, so we opted for an indoor "workout of the day" via The WOD Shop. It looks like this:

The Holbrook
10 rounds
10-9-8...3-2-1x reps
Squats
Burpees
Push-ups
(-Submitted by Andrew Light-)

As my book explains, this handy web site will randomly generate a workout for you, based on basic parameters to categorize the exercise (e.g., bodyweight, weightlifting). It's perfect for indoor exercise in the rain, without a gym, etc.

Do ten air squats, burpees, pushups, then nine, then eight, etc. We took minimal rests in between. Not that, when you're finished with this short routine, you've done a total of 55 pushups. My wife beat me through, but I don't race these exercises – I concentrate on form and doing them correctly (note my competitive after-the-fact interpretation of "losing" to my wife!). My 8-year-old son petered out around round 6, claiming the exercise "isn't designed for 8 year olds" (not!).

The whole thing, including the plank, couldn't have taken seven minutes. Yet the overall effect, without the pounding on the joints, was more physically beneficial than an hour-long jog, because it was higher intensity and strength oriented. You do need an internet connection while on the road, however; you could also generate some WODs, save them, and take them on the road. You can bet I'll be doing this one again.

I've already walked a couple of jet-lagged miles today, so the overall combination adds up to a sensible and effective routine. Not to mention a great antidote, with sleep, for jet lag!