Little Changes, Big Results and Shoveling Snow

A month ago, we penned it to paper, or announced it to others, or simply made up our minds that we were going to go to the gym and start working on our strength and overall condition. That was the only thing I wanted us focus on.  But now that it has been a month and you have hit the gym 4 or 5 times, and have already seen your strength numbers going up, we can make the next small change in our lives that can have a huge impact on what we are doing. I’m going to give you a list of what I think are the common trouble areas when it comes to diet:

  1. Drinking calories – whether it’s sodas, or juices, or alcohol. If you can’t give it up completely, seriously consider reducing your consumption by 50% to start.
  2. Pasta
  3. Bread
  4. Donuts
  5. Pancakes
  6. Pastry

For the above, try and limit consumption to once a week.

  1. Add a couple nights of walking or riding your bike or other fun activities.

Again, just to be clear, we are in this for the long haul, so I don’t see a need to try and make all of these changes all at once. Just make one change. Focus on sticking to it, and give it a month or two before you make another change.  It will be leveraging these little steps that will yield greats results down the line.

The other issue I wanted to address is the reality that the snow storm that smashed the East Coast of the U.S. did, sadly, leave deaths in its wake – car crashes, etc.  These come with the territory regarding inclement weather. But so do heart attacks.  The media, and I’m sure every other trainer, has been hammering this to death regarding why and how it happens, and how to limit your risk. For example, push the snow, don’t lift, which is of course sound advice.  However, one thing that was not addressed in this is what we call your heart rate maximum. This is, literally, how fast can your heart beat in a minute before it’s forced to quit, give up, explode, or simply stop.  The general rule of thumb for determining our heart rate max is to take 220 minus your age.  So if you are 15 years old and healthy, your heart rate max will be approximately 205. If you are 85, your heart rate will be (again, these are approximations) around 135. They are approximations, because, of course, there are many factors that will affect this number; physical condition and overall fitness being the biggest.  So can you spot where the problem can creep up? For the 85-year old, his/her maximum is where a 15-year old would like to be just for his/her warm up. Now, let us put this into the context of risk when it comes to shoveling snow.  You are 55, and you work 40 – 50 hours a week in an office in the financial district with a rather frustrating commute to the suburb on the north side of town. When, and if, you are not at work, you’re likely taking the kids to some practice or lesson. Your diet isn’t bad, but it also isn’t great. You can’t remember the last time you set foot in a gym, and your community on one of these gorgeous suburb side streets just got smashed with 24 inches of snow. We haven’t seen this since 2003 (I was there when it happened). Now you are going to man-up (or woman-up) and shovel that snow. And you are not going to stop until the job is done. Your heart rate max is 170 at this stage in your life, and it might be even lower because of your poor conditioning. As many of you are well aware, shoveling snow can be hard work – especially wet, heavy snow. It can take very little time to get to the point where you’re huffing and puffing, and can feel that ticker of yours banging away in your chest. We have fail-safes set in place to help minimize our bodies’ risk of reaching our maximum, but this type of work, for all of the factors that others have mentioned, do come into play, on top of the reality that this has likely been the most our case study has had to physically exert himself since his college football days. This is a huge stress and a big shock to the body. He pushed himself too hard, too soon, and got too close to his HRM, which is much lower than what it was when he was a teenager. It literally cramps and seizes up. Any other coronary risk factor he may have already had comes to fruition when the heart becomes this stressed.

So this won’t be the last time there is a major snow storm that shuts down schools for a week and gives teachers like me an awesome second Christmas break, so what can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you?

Well, firstly, the obvious ones have already been lamented over in the media, right? Shovel less snow more often; be proactive during the storm; push, don’t lift; if you have to lift, be sensible about how much you load the spade, etc. But we also need to do higher intensity forms of training on a regular basis to work our hearts and achieve a strong level of global metabolic conditioning. A good friend of mine trains using our approach. He is 61. He also has a 10-unit apartment complex with a good sized parking lot. He had some help from the Mrs. and shoveled the whole thing a few times. He had no problem! He’s kept his body in great shape, didn’t “overdo it” trying to prove anything. Then, after 3 days of clearing out from this whopper of a storm, he went to the gym, and called me pissed off that his chest press was disappointing and wanted to know if the shoveling would have affected this performance. Yes, it did. Shoveling is intense work and your recovery, after you’ve finished, will also need to be managed.

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