Lifestyle Exercise...

Here are a couple articles about getting exercise in simple, every-day kinds of ways.

First, standing desks. This is an article that highlights the frustration of relying too heavily on 'news' articles about anything.  Even fairly decent sources can get it wrong (in this case, NPR and Huffington Post). This article points out the flaws in the research that was cited by NPR and the Huffington Post.  Standing desks do indeed help according to a Mayo Clinic source.   I have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence that affirms the same thing. I am typing right now at a make-shift standing desk (I'm pretty much always at a 'make-shift' version since my office is pretty mobile these days). As the article says; "Bottom Line: It’s best to get up out of our chairs and move around at least every hour or two." (plus, I've posted about standing desks before.)

Second is an article about everyday exercise at home, with lots of supporting links. The bottom line here is that it doesn't take a club membership to get good exercise. It deals with aerobics, strength training and mobility/flexibility as well. Karen Sue Murdy, a professional exercise physiologist (and all around great person) indicates that the research is clear: one of the key factors for success is to be able to exercise at home, without having to go out to an 'exercise facility'.

God, Health and Happiness

I commend the book "God, Health and Happiness" by Dr Scott Morris of the Church Health Center in Memphis, TN.  I'm using it as the basis for a three week study on health and wellness at St Paul Lutheran in Melrose Park, IL. (A later edit: The title has been changed to Health Care You Can Live With. Same exact book, different title.)

Scott speaks from the medical pro side of things but also as a Pastor - because he is both, and has been from the beginning, more than 25 years ago. The book is very readable, with 33 very short chapters that walk you through the current state of our health care and how we got here, the church's history with health care, a biblical perspective on whole person health and suggestions for moving forward, personally and as a congregation.

Standing Desks

The research is pretty overwhelming - huge gains in worker productivity happen by simply standing instead of sitting at a desk. There are many tools now to help you be able to both stand and sit at the same desk, including some tools for what you stand on. (warning: I have not used the Wurf board myself; time and research will decide if it is a good idea; check out the short video the web page has; I think I'd give this one a try.) 

My office is currently in constant flux and so I use cardboard boxes to get 'standing height' on my computer, and I've known people to use unopened reams of paper and books shelves behind their desk to accomplish the same thing. I can work much longer at the computer when I'm standing vs when I'm sitting - no contest. You have to find a proper height for looking at the screen and hand height for the keyboard.  And I know a lawyer who bought a standing desk with a treadmill built in because he was trying to beat the early afternoon drowsiness.  He was initially the laughing stock of the office. Now, they fight to use his desk when he is out of the office. (The better treadmill desks restrict the speed to the slow side of things - the purpose is NOT exercise, it is adding movement to gain the boost of chemicals the muscle movement produces. And the treadmill desk can also just be used as a standing desk when that is preferred.)

And, by the way, productivity studies also show a 60% increase in creativity just by adding walking breaks at work.

Brain Breaks

For classroom, worship spaces, meeting rooms, "Dilbert' cubicles and more. One of the simplest and yet most under-used techniques for staying focused at school or work or in meetings is "Brain Breaks".

The concept goes back to Brain Gym, and probably further back then that.  If you google 'brain gym' you'll find supporters and detractors; detractors say the research doesn't support the claims, the supporters say their experience tells them it works. The current research on exercise and movement seems to support the claim that 'brain breaks' make a difference.

Places like Naperville Central High School use it consistently in almost all their classes.  I use it in all the places I have control over, when any length of sitting is involved.  The concept is two fold as I have come to understand it: 1) stand up to get the blood moving about every 20 minutes (certainly good for the brain when you've seen scans of what the brain looks like after just 20 minutes of sitting - it is a physical organ in need of nutrition); and 2) do some form of cross-lateral to stimulate the brain hemispheres' communication (think "Pat-your-head-and-rub-you-stomach"; a motor cortex located on each separate side of the brain controls movement on the other half of the body, so the cross-lateral activity forces the corpus callosum to fire between the hemispheres).

Most folks dabble with it and it always feels awkward. No one gets used to doing it and it always seems like an interruption.  The places that are successful with it have just made it part of the norm: this is what we do here. (some explanation early on helps, especially for older children and adults, but the leaders have to decide to keep using it as a matter of course.)

If you are going to use brain breaks regularly, you need a good supply of options.  It doesn't work well to repeat the same tired two or three options over and over again. Part of the genius of why it works is when the brain has to develop new paths for a new cross-lateral it has not done before.  There are good places to go for resources:

  1. Dr David Katz has a free downloadable pdf for elementary age students.
  2. He also has a version for adults. (and on vimeo)
  3. GoNoodle has some great online resources.
  4. Action Based Learning and Jean Blaydes Madigan are a good resource.
  5. David Sladkey, a math teacher at Naperville Central High School, put together a book called Energizing Brain Breaks and it is available on Amazon (the used ones are expensive!) or Corwin Publishing (I think it is worth $20).

Here are my suggestions for using them:

  1. Set a timer - I teach the concept and still blow past 20 minutes unless I remind myself. We don't feel the brain downturn after 20 minutes, but brain scans show us it is there. A good range is 20-30 minutes and gives some leeway on class/meeting/work flow.
  2. Hydrate the brain often - that means WATER and not flavored and/or sweetened drinks.
  3. Always at least stand in place. Encourage some simple large muscle movement (swinging the arms) to stimulate blood flow throughout the body.
  4. Always do some kind of cross-lateral. Change them up with regularity to keep them fresh.
  5. Never more than 2 minutes long. These are NOT 'bathroom breaks'!
  6. When possible you can have the movement 'match' the lesson in some way but that is not necessary. Teachers/leaders often worry that these breaks "every 20 minutes" is going to interrupt some 'flow' they have in their classroom or lecture or meeting.  The truth is that attention span is measured in SECONDS these days.  Over the course of 20 minutes you've lost and (hopefully) regained their attention multiple times.  Re-energizing the brain every 20-30 minutes is to your advantage in helping them stay focused and alert.
  7. Have fun with it.  Research indicates that little breaks like this (and even longer ones - we can talk about 'rest' and 'play' and 'sleep' in another blog post) help the brain get creative in solving problems.

I'd love to hear about your experience with "brain breaks" in the real world setting you are in.

Primary Food.

This post comes from a blog I watch regularly on my Twitter feed: Integrated Nutrition. The blog post is about "Primary Food".  It is a helpful look at keeping a whole person view of health.  As the post says, you can be eating all healthy foods and still not feel truly healthy if other key areas are out of whack.  Their key point is here (they are pretty weak on the source of Spiritual power but we know where that comes from):

The bottom line is: when you are nourished and happy in the ways that truly matter, food becomes secondary. 

Here are some of the things we consider to be Primary Foods:

  • Regular physical movement
  • Meaningful positive relationships
  • Fulfilling work
  • Some form of spiritual connection (whatever that means for you)
  • Following your personal passions
  • Non-dietary forms of self-care
  • Playfulness, creativity, and fun

Some simple things to work on. May be good to start where you have strengths and are doing well and affirm your positives and then build off the strengths into the areas that are weaker.

Prevention vs Treatment

I'll post a fair bit of information from this guy - Dr David Katz.  He is a medical professional focused on prevention. He is behind the NuVal food scoring system, the True Health Initiative which lifts up six simple core principles of healthy living, and Lifestyle Medicine which acknowledges the power of healthy living over disease.

He even has resources to get kids and even adults moving for better health and brain function.

Understanding Habits...

Charles Duhigg has written a very helpful book called The Power of Habit. It looks at how habits are formed and how to change them.

Some key things to remember: He describes the 'habit loop': Cue, Routine, Reward.  The 'Cue' might be something like the stress of a difficult meeting; the 'Routine' we end up repeating might be eating comfort foods and the 'Reward' is that we feel some relief.  If that pattern has been used for a long time it will be difficult to change, but not impossible.

Duhigg suggests keeping the 'Cue' and the 'Reward' and inserting a new routine - in the example above, a routine that is healthier for the long haul, so you substitute exercise for food.  He is careful to say that the old routine will still be there and, in the transition phase, it will be easy to slip back into the old routine. 

Another key learning is what he calls 'Belief' and 'Community'. If we believe that the new routine will actually work (perhaps you've learned that research has shown exercise to be a great stress reducer). Keeping with the new routine will be easier if you actually have tested and found it to be true yourself. And finding others who share the belief, or the need to change a similar routine adds dramatically to the chance of success.

He also wrote about some very interesting research that shows willpower to be something like a muscle - the more you use it the stronger it gets.  And focusing on one area of your life - exercising for stress reduction for example - can help in other areas as well.  Spending time thinking about how to be successful in that area and setting yourself up for success dramatically increases the chances of improving in other areas of life you'd like to work on.

Read me first...

This blog will be (generally) a weekly blog to support the pilot project called Realign to the Design (RTD). RTD is an attempt to use regular gatherings of Pastors (and other full time church workers) as a support group for their overall health journey.  Different Denominations call them different things. My background is LCMS Lutheran and we call them monthly Circuit meetings - a regular gathering of Pastors in a geographically close area used for study, worship and fellowship.

The RTD pilot will include a kick-off workshop, this blog, monthly phone calls to add another layer of accountability, a Facebook page for peer to peer posting, and some kind of expression in the local congregation to bring the members on board as well.

This blog will include posts on the three main topics of the workshop - and of trying to stay healthy - exercise, diet and play. Plus whatever else looks helpful and interesting.  I'll try to respond to what I hear from the regular phone calls so the resources are what is being asked for.

Blessings on the journey. Contact me if you have questions.

Exercise OverView

This is one of the main three things I'll post about: Exercise, Diet and Play.

It is hard to believe just how dramatically exercise affects academic achievement. The evidence is clear and overwhelming: The single simplest way to boost academic performance is to add vigorous exercise - at any age.

The book "Spark" by Dr. John Ratey gives one of the best overviews available in a very readable and understandable format. And the impact on academics is just the beginning: stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficit, menopause, and aging - all are positively impacted by exercise.

The beauty also is that it does NOT mean you have to become an "athlete" or a "runner". "Walking like you're late" does the trick just as well. Start at your "A" and then find your "B" and work to maintain that. Jumping to "D" is a mistake: raises the potential for injury and, perhaps more importantly, makes it harder to successfully sustain. "I knew I was no good at this!".

And we also have a mistaken notion about energy and exercise. If we feel a bit tired, we tend to think that exercise will make it worse.  If all else is going well (healthy diet and enough rest), exercise actually adds to your energy level.

Happy walking or running or swimming or .... whatever!