July 31, 2007

Aging: Will Science Make it Optional?

Sara over at Healthbolt has a freaky but interesting post about the possibility of dramatic increases in human lifespan in the future. She includes quite a few amusing hypothetical scenarios around this possibility. But here's the wild part: it may be happening sooner than we think.

According to a scientist quoted in this article from the The Anti-Aging Library, "the first person to live to be 1,000 years old is certainly alive today; indeed, he or she may be about to turn 60." The Cambridge University geneticist predicted: "barring accidents and suicide, most people now 40 years or younger can expect to live for centuries.” (His name is Aubrey de Grey, a name that sounds like it's already been around for centuries, doesn't it? Like some character in an Anne Rice novel? So maybe this guy Knows Something We Don't).

The article contains lots of controversial ideas, but here's the interesting part: these folks are not obvious nutballs. They don't all agree on what may happen or how it may transpire or whether it's even possible. But many of them are serious researchers from prestigious universities, some of whom are getting very real funding for anti-aging research. They study things like the “grim reaper” and “fountain of youth” genes.

On the other hand, there's a whole other movement opposed to anti-aging research. An alliance of "bio-conservatives" doesn't think we should be messing around with expanding lifespans, citing moral and ethical grounds.

Here's the part of the post where Crabby is supposed to chime in and say, "Oh, but I wouldn't want to live a thousand years, even if they could halt or reverse the aging process so I felt fine. I think it's selfish to want to live so long!"

Only you know what? Um... Crabby actually thinks she might want to, as long as there were companionable people to hang out with and beautiful forests to hike through and great works of music and art and literature... and cupcakes. Hopefully there will still be cupcakes in the 2900's or all bets are off.

So what do you folks think about all this?

July 30, 2007

Americans Myopic About Others' Perspectives?

So a perspective-taking study was published recently (and the more accessible summary is here) and it came to some troubling conclusions. At least if you're an American. If you're Chinese, maybe not so troubling.

Anyway, here's a quick recap:

Researchers from University of Chicago (Boaz Keysar and Shali Wu) invented a game to test how easily people could take another person's perspective.

They tested two groups: students from China who grew up speaking Mandarin, and another group of non-Asian American students.

The researchers asked people from the same cultural group to work together to move objects around in a grid placed between them. One person could see all the pieces; the other person couldn't. The person who could see them could also see which pieces were hidden from their partner.

Here's what happened: the Chinese subjects quickly focused on the objects their partner could see; Americans had a much harder time doing this. Taking the other person's perspective was so much more work for the Americans they spent about twice as long finishing the moves than the Chinese did.

Researchers were surprised by how often the Americans ignored the fact that their partner couldn't see all the pieces. "Despite the obvious simplicity of the task, the majority of American subjects (65 percent) failed to consider... (the other person's) perspective at least once during the experiment." In contrast, only one Chinese subject had similar problems.

It was a small study, but the results were pretty overwhelmingly embarrassing for Americans. That is, if the ability to shift to another person's perspective seems at all an important skill to have.

The results seem both depressing and somehow not surprising.

Sure, this was just about stepping out of one's own head for a moment to consider how another might view objects on a game board.

But have we Americans gotten so used to being the center of our own little universes that we can't even hold it in our brains for a few seconds that other people don't see what we see?

Because that's almost what this looks like: an acquired perceptual disability. As a culture, our self-centeredness is so entrenched and unchallenged that we're almost unable to imagine other points of view.

And so why is Cranky Fitness, a health blog, reporting on this?

Well, partly it's because Cranky Fitness seems to be expanding to encompass the broadest definition of "Health" it can possibly get away with. Diet and Exercise, sure, but also Disease Prevention and Aging and Psychological Issues and Relationship Issues and anything else Mind or Body related. (This approach may be a bit unfocused, but it's more fun than talking about portion control, interval training, and antioxidants every single day).

But also, this study seemed worth covering because as a society, we need the ability to recognize that there are perspectives other than our own. If we can't hold it in our heads that others don't see things as we do over a simple game board, can we do it in the heat of an argument where something real is at stake? Stepping out of our own viewpoint is essential in any sort of relationship or negotiation, whether it's a family, a business, a legislative body, a court of law, a prison, a hospital, a geopolitical summit, a battlefield... It should be second nature for every individual in a civilized society.

To go further out on a limb: no wonder everything is so screwed up. America is the most powerful country in the world, and we Americans have re-wired our brains so as not to trouble ourselves by ever stepping outside our own point of view.

So, what do you think--is this a real cultural issue, or just an overreaction to the implications of a small study based on an invented game?

(And by the way--Smart Readers of Cranky Fitness, even fellow Americans, would no doubt be among the subjects who weren't nearly so clueless!)

July 28, 2007

Smart Readers and Blog Comments

This is one of those weekend posts with no actual health information in it. If you're visiting Cranky Fitness for the first time, you may prefer something with a bit more substance. So feel free to grab some healthy and tasty antioxidants! Or you could go do some interval training or even just sit quietly and attempt to meditate. Or heck, visit Diet Pulpit where there a ton of resources for weight loss, or consult Marijke: Nurse Turned Writer who has lots of interesting medical information to share. Because Crabby just plans to yammer on for a few paragraphs about how wonderful her readers are and how grateful she is to have them.

Crabby has visited other blogs, bulletin boards, forums, and places where discussions happen on the web. And while some places are much like Cranky Fitness, many others are not!

Some High Traffic sites feature virtually no reader discussion at all. Theoretically, lots and lots of other people are visiting, but you don't know who they are or what they think. (As a side note, Crabby spent years visiting various blogs without ever commenting at all--she thinks reading without commenting is a very reasonable thing to do! She's just glad that so many of you here at Cranky Fitness are willing to take the time to do it). Places where no one comments sometimes feel a little lonely, at least to Crabby. It's like everyone else but her has something better to do than plop down into the comment section for a chat.

On the other hand, some sites get hundreds and hundreds of comments every day. One could spend hours reading all the comments on just one post--and for Crabby, that's too many! Crabby, both as a blogger and a reader, loves to feel like she "knows" the regulars. So Crabby loves that her readers provide a "just right" feeling of busy-ness to Cranky Fitness. Though she can't always reply to every comment (and she will likely get worse and worse about this as time goes on, sorry) she loves reading them all and knows other people out there lurking are enjoying them too.

Crabby has also noticed that some sites have really contentious comments with all kinds of personal attacks and flame wars and alliances of various sorts. There is much discussion of "trolls" or a common variant, "concern trolls." People are often warning other people "don't feed the trolls!"

No thank you! Crabby loves that you are all nice to each other. No one gives anyone else grief if they have a different opinion. Crabby's favorite thing of all, especially if it's a post she hasn't been able to tend to properly, is when you comment on each other's comments in a supportive way. It makes Crabby feel all warm and fuzzy. What a great community! What awesome readers!

Another nice thing about Cranky Fitness readers is that while they're all amiable and easy to get along with, they're all different. Some sites attract a very narrow age range, or income level, or geographic area, or special interest. Here, there's a nice variety--some of you are health freaks, some not so much; some of you are still in college while others are great-grand parents; etc, etc. It makes discussions so much more interesting than if we were all 23-27 years old; ate solely organic food, and were all eagerly training for our next Ultra Marathon.

And finally, what Crabby likes best about her Smart Reader's comments is their Quality. You folks are funny! And helpful. And thought-provoking. And poignant. Crabby always ends up learning something, and laughing, and thinking, and sometimes even changing her minds about things, which is a very hard thing for a Cranky Crab to do!

So thanks everyone!

July 27, 2007

Eeee-Haw, It's the Friday Round Up!

It's that time of the week again, when Crabby abandons all attempts at organizational themes or helpful transitions and just rounds up a bunch of random studies and links for you too read or not, whatever your preference. So saddle up your ponies and lets go for our usual wild ride!

So who knows how scientific this story is, and it's been out on the AP wires for a couple of days so you may have read it already. But it seems there's a cat at a nursing home who is normally pretty aloof. But "Oscar" has the ability to sense when a patient is about to die, and when they are he curls up beside them. The folks at the nursing home have become so convinced of his abilities to predict imminent death that they use him as an early warning system to let relatives know they may need to get in quick. Skeptical? Crabby was too, because it seems like the sort of thing people tend to exaggerate. But she's keeping an open mind, because apparently this little guy keeps getting it right over and over and over again--twenty five times so far. The full account is here.

In other animal matters (and this might make a full post one day, given the interests of Crabby's readers) there was recent study suggesting that owning a dog may make you healthier. Cats--not so much. Crabby needs to investigate this further, because while it may be that the necessary daily walks are helping people lower their blood pressure and cholesterol, it also seems possible that only relatively healthy people can take on dog ownership in the first place. The study may well have controlled for that; Crabby needs to poke around a bit more.

And here's a produce fact Crabby didn't know: watermelon is a vegetable, not a fruit! Elastic Waist (which is a cool blog) has a link, as did one of Crabby's Smart Readers, but Crabby forgot who it was, sorry! The links eventually take you to WebMd.

And it looks like scientists may have isolated the chemical in curry that helps prevent Alzheimer's. Crabby is glad that there may be a potential new weapon against Alzheimer's on the way; still it's much more fun to eat Indian food that swallow some sort of extract. So in the meantime: more curry, yumm.

So that's enough research for a Friday. Now it's on to some recreational links that have nothing to do with health.

For you writers, Jen over at The Working Writer has a post full of resources for writing Sex Scenes in novels--many of the amusing What Not to Do variety.

And Dawn at The Flightless Writer has a funny post about the similarities between bloggers and trained rats.

Finally, some silliness that has probably been making the rounds for years but it was new to Crabby. It's a compendium of unfortunately placed advertisements. Given that Crabby is easily fooled by photoshop, caution is advised; however, it looks as though the site's authors make some effort to "keep it real." Some of them are, actually, pretty damn unfortunate.

And if you've made it this far and can find something in this odd collection to comment on, Crabby will be quite impressed!

July 26, 2007

Obesity is "Socially Contagious"

So this study of obesity and social networks is pretty darn intriguing. Cranky Fitness will no doubt be among many other blogs writing about it today--but if Crabby can't the be first, at least she can be the silliest! Anyway, here's the bottom line: if your friends are starting to pack on the pounds, watch out--you may catch "obesity" from them.

Seems unlikely, doesn't it? But the effects of social networks, especially same-sex friendships, were extremely powerful when it came to subsequent weight gain (or, more optimistically, weight loss).

The actual journal article cited above is somewhat impenetrable, though it is has really cool charts, and diagrams of social networks that make them look like creepy organisms that could infect and kill you. So go there for hard core analysis.

Crabby is no scientist, but it looked like these guys thought things through pretty well, and controlled for factors like people's possible tendency to choose friends of their own size, or quit smoking at the same time.

However, for the less hard core, there's a watered down USA Today version that's much easier to follow.

Anyway, the clever researchers, James Fowler from UCSD (go Tritons!) and Nicholas Christakis from some medical school or other in Boston, took a fresh look at the Framington Heart Study data. Framington is that ginormous study that's been going on forever (well, 32 years). From that they could look at both social networks and weight gain (or loss), and here are some of their findings:

A person's chances of becoming obese increased by 37% if a spouse became obese.

The chances of becoming obese increased by 40% if a sibling became obese.

They increased by 57% a friend became obese. And the mutuality of the friendship made a difference: between mutual friends, one friend's obesity increased the other's risk by a whopping 171%.

No effects were seen between neighbors.

And those of the same sex had a greater influence on each other.

Christakis explained that "at the heart of the matter is the sharing of acceptable norms for weight, not just sharing the same eating-and-exercise habits... If someone you care about gains weight, your notion of an acceptable body size may change. You may decide it's OK to go up a couple of sizes."

But here's the icky part of this whole thing--the conclusions some people are drawing. According to the USA Today article, an obesity researcher at Baylor advises: "if you are trying to lose or control your weight, pick your friends carefully. You may not want to be around people who are gaining weight or who are too heavy."

Now that's just not nice.

Crabby suggests that instead of being a total jerk and cutting your overweight friends loose, that you simply use your brain. Make an effort to realize the impact their weight may be having on you, and don't use their larger size as an excuse for an extra slice of pizza or a "Baconator" with a large order of fries.

And you could also perhaps realize that your own efforts to eat healthy foods in reasonable portions, as well as your commitment to exercise, might be helping your less health-minded friends! Crabby prefers this approach to fleeing in terror from your friends lest they infect you with Contagious Obesity.

So what do you all think? Are your fat friends making you fatter? Are your skinny friends making you skinnier? Or are you impervious to the effects of your social network?

July 25, 2007


Apologies to those on dial-up, or to people who hate to click on links just on principle.

So sorry! But today's post is actually located here, at Diet Blog. Crabby has some whining to do about health research not always saying what she wants it to, and has some suggestions on how to ignore studies that come to the wrong conclusions.

If Crabby weren't so lazy, there would be a fresh post here as well. But, well, she is, so there isn't. (Unless you count this silliness, but you are Smart Readers and know a real post when you see one).

Crabby hopes you will take the plunge and visit her at Diet Blog today. If you do, you can comment here, or there, or both places, or neither! ("Research" is not perhaps the most exciting topic for comment; sorry). However, comments over there are especially appreciated in that Crabby fears looking silly and unpopular in front of a wider audience.

Also, you may notice that some "person" with initials and a last name is purporting to have something to do with Crabby's blog, Cranky Fitness. Pay no attention to that nonsense. Crustaceans are not generally taken seriously in the health field without human representatives--but you know between Crabby and this "person" who really calls the shots.

July 24, 2007

Workout Music: Gotta Have It?

Fortunately, there is actual research out there to support the notion that music combined with exercise is a Good Thing. Not only can the right music enhance exercise performance, but music combined with exercise can actually make you really freakin' smart for at least a little while afterwards.

Okay, the researchers didn't say "really freakin' smart." They said the combination could "stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organize cognitive output." (And warning: they were talking about Vivaldi. Check your playlist and adjust expectations accordingly).

The first study, which is a survey study and is pretty old now, is actually kind of cute. Crabby completely agrees with the author's contention that beat is more important than melody in choosing the "right" music, and that synchronizing the music with the rhythm of your footsteps or swimming strokes or whatever is an excellent idea. She questions, however, the author's contention that the song should conjure up exercise associations if at all possible--the author seems to assume these associations would naturally be pleasant and motivational! Again, you may want to check your own workout and P.E. class history and adjust accordingly.

So now that we've gotten that cursory nod to "research" out of the way, lets talk tunes!

Crabby cannot do aerobic exercise without the proper music. (More on this in a future post. She has a Theory she's going to share). So Crabby has spent hundreds of hours searching out the best downloadable tunes out there--they must be great songs that have the right beat for exercise. Would you like her to share these with you?

Well, she won't.

Why not? Is it because she's selfish and mean and wants you to do all that hard work yourself?

No. She would love for you to enjoy them too.

Is it because some of her iPod selections are so cheesy that she's embarrassed about them?

No, that's not it either. Many of them are indeed cheesy but she's not embarrassed about it.

In fact Crabby has all the best cheesy but irresistible songs, as well as the best classy songs too. Her workout music is awesome and eclectic and motivating. Great beats, great melodies, great songs! You should be so lucky as to have her playlists.

It's just that despite the excellence of her choices, you would probably hate most of them.

Isn't it weird? But one of the most powerful lessons in the complete subjectivity of personal taste (short of bringing a beloved first draft to a writing group) is listening to someone else's workout music playlist. Especially if that someone has posted it on iTunes and swears they've got the best songs in the world for working out in the world on there.

Have you ever done this? You go to iTunes and make your way to iMix and carefully searched for "cardio" or "workout" or "elliptical" to get hints from others about what to listen to. And you think because you're specifying aerobic music that the tunes will have good quick beats and motivational melodies and that they'll be, well, good songs? And then you listen to them.


Just marvel at the Complete Crap people are raving about! Way too slow, too boring, too stupid, too harsh, too soft, too insipid--it's awful, hideous, horrendous! One out of a hundred tunes you find are actually decent, and many of these are the completely wrong beat for working out to.

It seems like an odd coincidence that everything that Crabby likes is Wonderful, and others are so hopeless at choosing good music. Quite a puzzle!

So Crabby will not reveal her choices in particular, because there is a good chance you won't like them and will reveal yourself as having Bad Taste. On the other hand, she loves to hear what you folks do about music--whether it is mandatory, and what sort of things get you going. And should you happen to mention something that reveals your Excellent Taste (i.e., Crabby likes it too), who knows, she might chime in in agreement.

July 23, 2007

Meditation: New Research Says Don't Bother?

In an earlier post on failed efforts at self-improvement, Crabby mentioned she had tried meditation. And tried meditation. And tried meditation.

Here's what would happen: Crabby would be fully concentrating on her mantra, candle, color, breath, left big toe, or whatever. But at the same time, she would also be narrating a running commentary on her efforts to do so. "See, I'm really filling my mind with this lovely blue vase. I am appreciating every aspect of it but goddamn it, I'm also thinking about thinking about the blue vase. Does that mean it doesn't count? Blue Blue Blue, goddamn it I'm still thinking!"

Meditation people might insist Crabby was not "really" focusing on the blue vase if there was all that room left in her consciousness to narrate her thinking process, but she swears she really was doing both at the same time.

It did not help Crabby that she must have read a few dozen magazine pieces featuring skeptical non-meditators who would have all the same complaints for the first session or two. But by the end of a week they all managed to attain some sort of blissful nirvana and were laughing (gently) at their old skeptical selves. (Crabby hopes at least some of them were just on deadlines and needed a happy ending and were totally lying about it).

Anyway, despite years of frustrating sessions of not-quite-meditating, Crabby always felt it was a worthwhile pursuit. Perhaps not for her--there's only so much energy she has for self-improvement, and attempted meditation has used up way more than its share. But for other people at least, it seemed clear meditation was a Great Thing.

Everyone seemed to agree that meditation had major physical and mental health benefits. Experts from both East and West; ancient traditions and modern medicine; those advocating spiritual practice and those rejecting any sort of organized religion all seemed to say the same thing: "Yeah, Crabby, you should be meditating."

Well, now comes a study that would seem to let Crabby off the hook, guilt free. Here is what the Yahoo news headline said: "Meditation Won't Boost Health: Study."

So since meditation won't boost her health, Crabby need not feel the slightest twinge of guilt for abandoning her pursuit of it, right?

Well, no. At least Crabby isn't convinced yet that she's off scott free. (And by the way, who the hell is Scott?)

First off, most health headline writers who don't have their heads up their asses would have stated the study results more accurately. Crabby refers you for further reference to "Therapeutic Value Of Meditation Unproven, Says Study."

There is a big difference in saying that "Meditation doesn't improve health," versus "no one has yet been able to prove meditation improves health."

And reading further, Crabby isn't even sure this is the case either. Plenty of evidence seemed to suggest health benefits, but the researchers who took a closer look at 813 previous studies didn't like them.

According to this summary in Science Daily, though the researchers found some evidence that "certain types of meditation reduce blood pressure and stress," and noted that "among healthy individuals, practices such as Yoga seemed to increase verbal creativity and reduce heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol," they said no firm conclusions on the effects of meditation could be drawn. "Existing scientific research is characterized by poor methodological quality, and does not appear to have a common theoretical perspective."

This is such a far cry from "Meditation Won't Boost Health: Study," that it makes Crabby want bonk Yahoo News on it's virtual head with a meditation pillow or a pretty scented candle. Though she suspects that's not very Zen of her.

Other recent studies have been all good news for meditators. Crabby doesn't know if these were included in the Big Debunking Study or not, but she'll let readers decide for themselves what they think.

This University Of Wisconsin meditation study found that meditation increased immune function, as well as activation in the left frontal region of the brain--which is associated with lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state.

Another study found that meditation seemed to increase grey matter in the brain.

And finally, this study on meditation and attention showed that meditation could increase subject's ability to attend to incoming visual signals sent a short time apart. The subjects were thus able to learn to enhance their "attention capabilities."

None of this is likely to convince Crabby to return to meditation anytime soon--she truly does suck at it. But what about you all? Do you meditate? Have you tried? Do you think it's good for you?

July 20, 2007

More Friday Randomness

So as Crabby heads off for a long weekend with the intrepid Lobster, she thought she'd leave behind the usual assortment of weird research that didn't fit in anywhere else during the week.

She also wants to remind you to email her your Great Hikes and pictures if you've got them. And, it's looking like the "Reader Recommendations" for Cool Books and Other Health Products could probably use some updating too. So if you've recently stumbled upon something you Highly Recommend, or if you suddenly recall an old favorite you think others might enjoy, please leave your suggestions in the comments or email the Crab about them.

Lets do the Bad Cancer News first and get it out of the way:

Adding extra fruits and veggies to your diet, though good for you in many other ways, doesn't appear to help prevent breast cancer recurrence. Crabby would have bet otherwise, and she doesn't like this result, so she'll just wait for some other study to come out soon and say the opposite.

Also weight cycling, or "yo-yo" dieting, appears to increase the risk of kidney cancer. This also seems like frustrating news for the many who are trying their damndest but keep putting the weight back on--now another thing to worry about.

And children and young adults living near nuclear plants show a higher incidence of leukemia. This one looked a little complicated, though, so anyone who actually lives near one may want to give it a more careful combing over before panicking about what it might mean for your kids.

Okay, yuck. That's enough of that!

There's good news however, if you have a lot of moles. You may have a slightly greater risk of melanoma, but you may live longer nonetheless. For some reason, having more moles seems related to having longer telomeres, which scientists assure us is a very good thing. It has something to do with shoelaces. Crabby, being lazy, would rather have you read about the mole study yourself than try to figure out and explain exactly what a telomere is and what shoelaces have to do with it.

And as for exercise, there's another study saying that walking is good for you, and high intensity walking is even better. You knew that already, but it's always nice to see Science on Our Side.

But here's one you may not have known: for your cardio workouts, breaking up an hour long session into two chunks with a 20 minute rest in between may actually help you burn more fat. (Crabby wonders, however, what the heck you're supposed to do for that twenty minutes, especially if you're at the gym and it already feels like you spend half the freakin' day there? But maybe you could go do some stretchy stuff, or meditate, or go flirt with the bored-looking person handing out towels.)

So this was supposed to just be a short post today, to make up these long-ass rambly things that somehow keep appearing in the blog. Crabby swears they're only a couple of paragraphs when she hits "Publish," but gremlins of some sort seem to be cramming them full of nonsense.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Crabby will probably be back Monday; Tuesday at the latest.

July 19, 2007

Great Outdoors

Here at Cranky Fitness, there is a tendency to engage in a lot of whining. And this is not going to change anytime soon. If fact, today's post is pretty much a rant, but there are Important Announcements at the end, so please hang in there.

So the Great Outdoors is no exception to Crabby's general whine-about-it policy: she has already complained about her fear of encountering lions and tigers and bears while hiking out in the wilderness. She has confessed that she often wonders: will she survive her little five mile loop, or will hungry predators catch her and eat her alive? (And what the heck does that even mean, "eaten alive?" How alive could you be without, say, your head?)

However, Crabby still loves hiking and camping and thinks everyone should do more of it. So she was alarmed to discover that National Park attendance is declining!

What? How could this be?

Sure, gas prices are high, and entrance fees have gone up, but that's true for any family vacation destination. DisneyWorld or even a trip to the multiplex costs way more money than it did a generation ago.

But c'mon. Some people do indeed spend a little money on vacations. And if those people can cruise to Cabo or pack the kids off with them to big resort hotel in Hawaii or spend a week within the confines of the Magic Kingdom, then they could also probably rent a tent and pitch it in a campground, or find a cheap motel near a national park, or at least take a few day trips to a nearby local park with trails and big trees or streams or waterfalls or something.

Everyone seems to be talking the big talk about "going green" and "caring about our natural environment," but no one seems to actually want to go out in it to appreciate it.

(And an aside, perhaps related and perhaps not, kids don't walk or bike to school much anymore, even when they live less than a mile away).

Crabby has great childhood memories of camping and hiking, and perhaps that's why she loves it now. She and her Most Significant Other (whom she shall nickname The Lobster, at least until she thinks of something better) are extremely fortunate: they have a five year old Camper Van that they have spent many nights in. So whenever they can, Crab and Lobster pack up "Fran the Van" and visit various county, state, provincial, and national parks, both in the U. S. and Canada.

(Another rambling aside: Fran the Van is a Pleasure-Way, and she hails from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Crabby and the Lobster visited Fran's factory-birthplace once, spent the night in their parking lot, and in the morning were given a tour and a very nice jar of something-berry jam. The folks in Saskatoon seemed very, very nice and they had super large bugs there).

Not everyone is so lucky as to own a small recreational vehicle; on the other hand, Crabby has spent many a night in her youth and young adulthood in a small cramped funky-smelling tents and managed to have a good time then, too.

Here's the thing: except in rare instances, like the Grand Canyon or Niagra Falls or Half Dome or Bryce or whatever, the beauty and wonder of nature is often subtle. It's not in-your-face the same way a Pixar movie or a Six Flags Scare-You-to-Death Roller Coaster ride is.

Some people have always loved the sights, smells, sounds, adventures and grandeur of the Outdoors. But for many, it took deliberate exposure and education to learn to appreciate the wilderness--sort of like fine wine or fresh asparagus or classical music. And Crabby doubts most people are going to cultivate a taste for it by plopping themselves or their kids in front of a videogame every spare hour.

Is it important for us as a society that we appreciate nature? Crabby has her opinion, obviously, but you may have yours as well and she hopes you will share it here in the commments. And Crabby does not mean that any particular family should feel bad if it really doesn't want to commune with nature--her rant is more directed at our culture as a whole: one that values the Big and Easy and Fake over the Nuanced and Challenging and Real.

End of rant. And so, finally, we have our Two Announcements!

First: You may have seen this one coming. Apologies, but the Crab and Lobster will be off for a long weekend in Fran the Van. There will probably be a Random Research post tomorrow, but comment follow-up is unlikely. And Monday's post may be delayed until late Monday or possibly Tuesday.

Crabby realizes she's been less than conscientious lately too about responding to comments and visiting other blogs. She'll get better when she gets back, and then worse again. But she's in this for the long haul, and is really trying to get the "balance" thing figured out. She hopes you'll stick with her anyway, as she would be heartbroken if you all went away and found better, more reliable blogs in her absence.

And, Second Announcement: Crabby needs your hiking-and-camping related help!

She's hoping to assemble a future post with a "Best Damn Hikes You've Ever Been On" sort of theme.

And she's especially hoping to get her Smart Readers to do most of the work for her! So if you have ever been on an Awesome hike, or stayed at wonderful Campground, and want to send her a short description of it, and perhaps include a picture, Crabby would love to have some posts about this.

She can't offer any compensation other than a link to your blog if you have one and her undying gratitude. Please email her at CrabbyMcSlacker @ gmail.com (skip the spaces and don't worry about capitalization). Tell her about your great hike, why it was great, how long it was, and enough information about location to get readers started (i.e. the trail name and the park it's located in) and Crabby would be most grateful! And a picture you have rights to would be great too. (The picture for this post, btw, is actually one from a Great Hike Crabby and the Lobster took). If Crabby gets a couple submissions she'll do a post about it, and if she gets a whole bunch she'll do a series of posts spread out over a few weeks!

Yikes, what a long post! Comments are always welcome, although Crabby can't seem to predict when she'll be in or not, so possible apologies if she strays again. She's pretty sure she'll be more attentive today, and she always reads them, even when she doesn't respond.

So see you (briefly) tomorrow and have a great weekend after that. (And P.S.-- go outside!)

July 18, 2007

Calcium and other Fascinating Dairy-Related Items



Of course not. It's just a post about milk.

But it seemed about time to say something about Milk and Calcium and Dairy, because it's one of those subjects that tends to be in the health news quite a bit. Studies fly around saying contradictory things. One day milk is a Miracle Beverage that builds strong bones and cures diseases and makes you skinny, and the next day it's like, "meh, maybe not so much, never mind." Then a few weeks later it's back to "well hooray, maybe it's pretty damn good for you after all," then someone else says "no it's not, that's a lie!" You get the idea.

Cranky Fitness does not intend to resolve the debate over milk. To the extent that a blog can drink a beverage, Cranky Fitness drinks milk and likes it.

So instead, let's throw a couple recent studies out there, and we can all continue to believe what we already did, and continue to do what we were already doing. Because that's pretty much how it works with health reporting, isn't it?

But who knows, perhaps the odd reader or two may see a study here and have a change of heart about milk. (And by odd, Crabby means random, not strange--oh well, never mind. If you find yourself here at Cranky fitness with Crabby, "odd" may indeed be the right word).

And yes, Crabby knows a lot of you may be vegans or can't do dairy for health reasons. She hopes that those of you who know better than Crabby about non-dairy alternatives can pipe up in the comments and offer advice. Crabby is more lactose-enthusiastic than lactose-intolerant, so she's never had to familiarize herself with what-all is out there.

So, to review: there was earlier research that seemed to suggest that eating and drinking lots of dairy products helped you lose weight. But more recently, thinking on this seems to have changed. The FTC and even made the Milk People stop using this claim in their ads. For more on this aspect, Diet Blog has a summary.

But what about calcium? Don't you need it for bone health? And isn't it better to get it from food than from supplements?

Well, yes, apparently. A recent study of calcium intake and bone health compared 3 groups of women:

Women who got 70% or more of their daily calcium from supplements;

Women who got 70% or more of their calcium from dairy products and other foods; and

Women who got their calcium more equally from both sources.

The researchers (from Washington University School of Medicine) found that women who got most of their calcium from food had healthier bones than women who got it mostly from supplements. And this was true even though the supplement takers had a higher average calcium intake.

But before you toss those supplements--the group that got their calcium from both sources had the highest intake and the healthiest bones.

And another recent study, of dairy consumption and health (this time looking at men, 2400 of the British variety) found that those who regularly consumed milk, cheese and yogurt were less likely to develop risk factors for diabetes and heart disease.

There is probably a lot more research about milk out there, but it's already getting pretty tedious and that feels like enough for today. Crabby promises she won't be this boring very often, but every now and then she reminds herself she has a Health blog and might want to do some occasional actual Health News reporting. Don't worry, it won't last long!

For much more entertaining health and fitness news, you're much better off visiting Sister Skinny or Fitness Fixation. Crabby knows she's mentioned both these blogs before, but hell, they're really great. And today is a Special Day over at Fitness Fixation, because fierce but adorable Kelly has been reduced to parading around in a leotard. She'll tell you why, in her usual demure and polite way.

And those of you who often comment? Do not feel like you have to say anything about the freakin' milk. Crabby's feelings will not be hurt if you find yourselves on other subjects, or without much to Moo about at all.

July 17, 2007

Spousal Support

A recent study highlighted the positive impact one spouse can have on the other by making healthy lifestyle changes.

Before Crabby starts sharing her many disorganized thoughts on this topic (and she hopes you have some too, only perhaps not as disorganized) she'll go ahead and present a few of study's conclusions. It was conducted by researchers Tracy Falba and Jody Sindelar, and as usual, Crabby hopes someday they Google themselves and wind up smack in the middle of the pages of Cranky Fitness--marveling at the mess Crabby has made of their study.


After asking more than 6,000 married adults about exercise, smoking, alcohol use, flu shots, and cholesterol screening--twice, both in 1996 and 2000, here's what our researchers found:

"Spouses were five to six times more likely to quit smoking, quit drinking, and to start getting flu shots if their spouse started doing so during the study."

They were also about 50% more likely to start exercising, and about 80% more likely to get a cholesterol test.

And it didn't matter which spouse changed first: husbands and wives influenced each other equally.

The study didn't specify whether nagging played any part in this, and Crabby refuses to speculate. (She's also not clear that research supports the idea that "not drinking" is always healthier than drinking, either, but whatever).

However, interesting as this was, it's mostly a jumping off point for Crabby's real interest: What impact does being coupled have on the person who is already health-conscious (or health-obsessed)? Sure, having a healthy mate may lead one to adopt better habits, but does having a slackier mate do the opposite? Does it drag you down? Or what happens if you're about equally conscientious?

Crabby guesses that among the coupled Cranky Fitness readers out there, many of you may be the more health-conscious one in your relationship. So while it's great that you may be influencing your mate in the right direction, what's the impact on you?

Not being prepared to actually go consult The Google and hunt down relevant research, Crabby would much rather find out what you all think about how being coupled or not affects your attempts to be healthy. Because who cares what the studies say when we have our very own entertaining database right here?

Of course there is this whole pesky "spouse" issue, which Crabby interprets to mean Partner or Significant Other or Mate. Crabby feels her Most Significant Other should count, even though under the laws of every United State except Massachusetts, she doesn't. But that's a rant for another time.

Anyway, Crabby is very lucky in that even though MSO does not share quite her obsessive interest in health matters, and dislikes most vegetables, she has always been very supportive of Crabby's efforts to eat healthy and get daily exercise.

In fact, check this out: Crabby's knees are trashed from years of running; she is much better at going uphill than down. Her absolute favorite aerobic walk is up to the top of a huge hill (in Crabby's mind, it is a Mountain) but it's an hour and a half round trip, and her knees object heartily to the walk back down. Nevertheless, every Sunday, Crabby sets off with her iPod and her heartrate monitor and charges up the hill.

And MSO arrives, 45 minutes later, at the top of the hill to drive her back down again. She brings a bottle of cold water, too.

Is that not awesome?

So what do you folks think about being singled or coupled and the effects that might have on your efforts to be healthy? Or kids, heck, we can throw kids in the mix too!

July 16, 2007

Personality Quiz: What Kind of Food Freak Are You?

So here's your chance to answer a bunch of questions and get annoyed when the results say something about you that isn't true!

Yes, it's time for the Cranky Fitness Food Freak Personality Test. And this is the particularly vexing kind where there's no good "normal" answer, and you're forced to make a choice among things you don't agree with. Then you add up your score at the end and have the test call you some sort of Freak, even though you swear you're not!

Sound like fun? How can you resist. Anyway, here we go. Instructions: pick the answer you least disagree with. Make a mental note if you waver between more than one: you may be a Combination Freak, as will be explained later.

1. It is your birthday and your best friends are treating you to lunch. They encourage you to order anything you want! You have exercised that morning, eaten small to moderate portions of healthy food all week, and are not allergic to any ingredients on the menu. You would most likely order:

(a) A big juicy burger or a buttery grilled cheese sandwich or fried chicken, with fries or onion rings, followed by chocolate cake or apple pie or a ice cream sundae;

(b) A big salad with lots of greens and lean protein, just a touch of dressing, and perhaps a few bites of sorbet afterwards because it's your birthday!

(c) Whatever on the menu was organic, whether it was choice (a) or choice (b);

(d) Nothing but bottled water wiped with a disinfecting towelette if you happened to notice, earlier while in the restroom stall, that someone left the bathroom without washing their hands. Suppose it was your waitperson?

2. You got caught in a meeting at work and couldn't get out for lunch. Now it's 1:30 and you're starving! A co-worker hears your stomach growl and offers you a left-over ham and cheese sandwich on sourdough--she picked it up from the deli an hour ago, she decided she didn't want it after all. Assume you're not a vegetarian. You refuse because:

(a) What do you mean I refuse? I'm starving! I finished that puppy before you got past "sourdough!"

(b) It's way too fattening. Plus, it's only five hours or so until dinner--that's not too long to wait.

(c) The ham is full of nitrites and the mayo probably has corn syrup in it and the sourdough is all refined flour and not whole grain!

(d) If it's been out of the refrigerator for over an hour, it could be full of bacteria!

3. You really shouldn't drink lots and lots of diet soft drinks because:

(a) They taste like crap compared to real ones, so why would you bother?

(b) You shouldn't? Says who! They have no calories in them!

(c) They're full of artificial sweeteners and other potential carcinogens.

(d) They make you pee a lot and you might have to use a germ-infested public restroom.

4. The best thing about camping and outdoor cooking is:

(a) Hamburgers, hot dogs, and S'mores;

(b) All the extra calories you burn hiking all day and trekking to the restroom half a mile each way at night, and the fact that half the food ends up burned so you're not tempted to eat it;

(c) Trail Mix;

(d) There's nothing good about camping; there's dirt everywhere and you can't get enough hot water to disinfect anything!

5. A dear sweet old friend or relative has slaved for hours to make you a special treat. She offers you a basket of home-made cookies and waits with great anticipation for you to enjoy one. But then she says the one thing that's going to make it impossible to eat the cookie, thereby possibly breaking the ol' gal's heart. What would that be?

"I hope you don't mind dear, but...

(a) "I thought it might be healthier if I left out all that refined white flour and sugar and butter and eggs, so instead I used lentil flour and ground flax seeds and sweetened it all up with a little yam juice!"

(b) "The recipe did say these were 450 calories each, and that's before I added the extra macadamia nuts and caramel and chocolate chips..."

(c) "And these are very low cal because I used Equal and Pam and egg-beaters! Although I did add some crumbled Oreos to give them some crunch. And see how pretty the colors are? Isn't that Red dye #2 festive looking?

(d) "It was so clumsy of me, I'm afraid I dropped the whole batch on the kitchen floor! But don't worry, I brushed most of the dirt and hair off. Plus, I'm pretty sure I mopped the floor sometime this month, and the cat hardly every throws up in there anymore!"

So, quiz takers, are you good and irritated yet? If not, now it's time to check your answers and call you names!

If you answered mostly "A" you are most likely: Freakishly Lackadaisical about your food choices.

The most extreme Lackadaisical Freaks don't give a rat's ass what they eat, so long as it tastes good and isn't too weirdly healthy. Most average Americans are some version of this--and this is not supposed to be reassuring. Be Very Afraid.

If "B" was your favorite choice, you may be a Diet Freak.

Diet Freaks fear calories and weight gain more than impending death or torture. The most extreme will go to great lengths to avoid enjoying their food because then they might eat too much of it. This is probably the second most common sort of Freakitude.

The most common answer for Crunchy Freaks is "C." Crunchy Freaks will avoid anything not "natural," because it is by definition carcinogenic. They do not need a study to prove this: if it comes from a lab, it's deadly. On the other hand, they will happily justify their chocolate layer cakes from Whole Foods, because the butter, white flour and sugar in them are all Organic. Likewise, the fat that oozes from their juicy cheeseburgers comes from hormone-free cows, so they need not worry where in their arteries it may end up.

And of course the "D's" are our Sanitation Freaks. Extreme Sanitation Freaks fear invisible and ever-multiplying colonies of bacteria, which are just waiting to invade their food and infect them with horrible diseases. Interestingly enough, Sanitation Freaks don't seem any less likely to get sick than those who often forget to refrigerate and eat things right off the floor.

Those of you who had trouble deciding are probably Combination Freaks. It is quite possible to have a pathological fear of calories, carcinogens and germs all at once! This makes it hard to ever eat anything on your plate. But don't worry--the Lackadaisical Freaks can finish that right up for you.

Is everyone good and offended now? Need it be said that this was all a Spoof and and Exaggeration? It seems clear that in actuality, readers of Cranky Fitness are all smart and reasonable and not the least bit Crazy. So please don't go away mad!

But if you were a little freakish, which one would you be? Comments welcome.

July 14, 2007

Do We Need a Title?

So alert and/or suspicious readers may have noticed the usual Random Research Saturday post appeared on Friday. Hmmm... Is Crabby trying to shift her schedule around so she can slip away from Cranky Fitness at least one and possibly two days over the Weekend?

Yes, exactly!

Crabby has decided to stop whining so much about Balance in her Life and actually do something about it. She decided she needs to get over herself--nobody is making her post every day. At this rate, she will quickly use up every opinion she has about Health and Fitness and have nothing left to say. And then how would she get you all to come here and entertain her with your comments?

Even when Crabby "takes a vacation," as she pretended to do over the Fourth and Fifth of July, she finds herself back at her computer half the time. She was busy signing up for things and scouting out new sources of traffic and playing with widgets and pondering the Efficacy of Social Bookmarking.

This is silly. She's going to stop it.

As it happens, Sunday is Crabby's Four Month Anniversary at Cranky Fitness and it seems like a good time to re-evaluate her relationship to it. (And she knows she's just like one of those annoying infatuated couples, the way she insists on announcing every passing month! But she's still very much in the Honeymoon period of blogging. She promises after 6 months she'll shut up about it, at least for anything less than an Annual Anniversary). But even while still Honeymooning, it is advisable to take breaks every now and then. And so Crabby will be gone more on weekends. And in fact, she may be out of town for a few days in a week or so.

Crabby may go away now and then for a few days but she will always come back. She likes everybody here and misses her visitors when she is gone. So please, when Crabby goes away for a few days, do not forget about her entirely and stop checking in at Cranky Fitness! This would make her a very Sad Crab indeed.

And she's hoping that those of you who are also struggling with Cutting Back on Something will be doing what Crabby plans to this weekend--getting the heck away from whatever it is and revisiting the rest of your lives.

Crabby made the mistake last time she went off of trying to shut down comments so she wouldn't feel badly if she didn't respond to each one.

That was dumb. She won't do that again.

So please leave any comments you might have on Blogging or Balance or Weekends or Obsessions or Whatever!

Crabby truly does love reading your comments. She may, however, respond generally and not individually to comments left over the weekend. And if you, too, have fun things to do Outside, she will not be hurt or upset if you decide to catch up with her Monday instead. Have a great weekend!

July 13, 2007

Research Roundup

So here is the weekly Random Research post. This was a tradition started on weekends, but Friday is a good day for randomness too, isn't it? After all, by Friday, who can think clearly and pay attention to a single subject for more than a paragraph or two? Certainly not Crabby. So fasten your seat-belts and watch in amazement as we descend from health-related studies into truly random and chaotic linkage!

First up is an article about the general health of truck drivers in the U.S., and guess what? It's not encouraging.

Some specifics, from an upcoming study by the Transportation Research Board:

Nearly half of truckers are regular smokers, compared to about one-fifth of all Americans. Only about one in ten get regular aerobic exercise. There are also high rates of obesity and sleep apnea.

Add to this the fact that the trucking industry has the most fatalities any industry and that truckers also report more injuries than any other occupation, and you have a good reason to worry for these (mostly) guys. The article goes on to highlight some efforts being made to improve trucker health, but given the scope of the problem, Crabby's not laying down money on dramatic improvements any time soon.

So truckers tend to be smokers? Perhaps we'll use that as a crude transition to a trio of studies that involved smoking. Somehow it seems doubtful that many readers of Cranky Fitness are big smokers, but what the heck.

So one good news items for smokers: there's at least one disease you're less likely to get than nonsmokers are. A recent study suggests cigarette smokers are at reduced risk for developing Parkinson's disease. Crabby hopes she doesn't need to point out that you'll be at higher risk for a bunch of other more common deadly health problems, like cancer, stroke, and heart attacks. Because you knew that already, right?

For those who are trying to quit smoking, and also struggling with a drinking problem, it looks like there may be one medication that helps for both addictions. It's called varenicline, and it's already available to help people stop smoking. But it may also help heavy drinkers and people struggling with other addictions by targeting a "pleasure center" in the brain.

Also, on the smoking front, there's this research concluding that smokers lose more muscle mass in old age, which then "predisposes smokers to an accelerated decline in physical function and loss of independence." Which means some earnest underpaid nurse's aide in your nursing home is going to be snatching those cigarettes out of your weakened grasp anyhow. So you you might as well quit now while the quittin's good.

And for those who might be partial to a bit of Friday Beefcake, Diet Blog has a great run-down on a recent study claiming that women really do go for brawny guys with lots o' muscles. Crabby's stereotype was that the shallow preoccupation with superficial aspects of physical appearance was a male vice, not a female one. But she discovered she was Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

Diet Blog, unlike many other health reporting sites, actually showed the blob-headed but strangely studly pictures used in the studies, and went beyond the headlines to actually analyze the data. So gals (or guys) who have an opinion on Male Physique may want to check this out and report back to Crabby what they think about the whole thing.

And our good friend Martha over at That'sFit has a review of Fat Girl by Judith Moore that made Crabby eager to read it. Have any of you gotten to it yet, and if so, what did you think?

And finally, were we speaking of largeness? (Crabby is not even making a pretense of logical connections anymore). Here is a gratuitous picture of a Very Huge Cat. Seriously, do click on the link; you have to see this; scroll down a bit to get the full impact. This then allows Crabby to mention a favorite blogger, Penelope, Who Does Not Pretend to Be An Ordinary Cat. She has opinions about politics and all sorts of things, and has been rated NC-17 because of her use of objectionable language. Her sidebar is frequently updated and not to be missed.

Have enough random subjects been mentioned for now so that everyone might have an opinion about something? Crabby hopes so, because she loves to hear what you all are thinking!

July 12, 2007

What's Workin'?

Here at Cranky Fitness, we tend to turn our attention to the negative fairly often, just because it fits in well with the whole Complaining theme. And every blog needs a theme, don't you think?

But even Cranky ol' Crabby McSlacker gets tired of whining sometimes, especially about how hard it is to be healthy. So today she thought it might be nice to check in with everybody and find out what might be going right for you in your personal quests for health and fitness. And, if you happen to have any idea, what the reasons might be for your success.

Now this doesn't have to be some huge accomplishment, like quitting smoking, or starting to jog. It could be a small victory in an ongoing battle--like switching from full fat milk to 2% on your way to nonfat. Or getting an extra half hour of sleep a night. And while it could be a whole new endeavor you've just started, it could also just be an old habit that's really good for you that you never remember to give yourself credit for.

Crabby's is fairly small and recent, but she'll tell you about it anyway, to get things started.

As regular readers may recall, Crabby was discussing the benefits of interval training, and decided to get more serious about doing it herself. And by serious, she does not mean "intense"--because Crabby picked the wimpiest version of interval training she could find. By serious she meant: do it regularly, on purpose, in a specific way. So to do her intervals, she gets on a treadmill and runs as fast as she can uphill, in short little bursts.

And guess what? After about six weeks, she's still keeping up with it! She likes it! It seems to be adding to her general fitness, and is not any more loathsome than any other form of exercise she does.

The main reason she hasn't abandoned it, she thinks, is because she was determinedly not very ambitious about her goals, or her progress.

She only has to do it once a week.

And only for 45 seconds, six times.

And she takes at least two minutes to recover by walking in between.

As she's getting a bit better at it, the only thing she is letting herself adjust is her speed--she goes a little bit faster now. But no additional intervals; no making the 45 seconds into a minute.

It's the sort of "interval program" that would make a serious fitness person laugh. But--it works for Crabby. And by keeping it very doable, she is keeping up with it. She still does regular cardio three or four other days a week, but because this is "different" she actually looks forward to it.

(And by the way, there was another recent study saying how good interval training was for you, and Crabby was all excited until she read it more closely. Because this interval training study used a version about ten times harder than the one Crabby was doing. So she ignored it!)

So do any of you have any recent health accomplishments that you're happy about, or any longtime habits that you should be giving yourself credit for? And why do you think you've been able to do this? Crabby would love to hear all about it!

July 11, 2007

When In Doubt...

Bethany over at That'sFit drew Crabby's attention to a health question she tends to be willfully ignorant about: how long you can keep stuff in the refrigerator before you have to toss it out?

Every now and then Crabby reads an article like this and she thinks, really? That soon? My goodness!

And perhaps she even reforms her ways for a few days. But she always goes back to her usual primary method for determining Food Salvageability: the sniff test. If it doesn't stink, she pretty much eats it. Of course there are exceptions: if it has turned a noticeably different color or grown a lot of fur, or if it's been so long she can't remember how it got there, perhaps she tosses it even if it doesn't smell or taste funny.

In fact for Crabby, even mold is sometimes negotiable. But don't you do it just because Crabby does. This may be a "health" blog, but it still sets an Unhealthy Example a lot of the time. Because except for maybe certain hard cheeses, which you can cut around widely, you're really supposed to throw out baked goods or produce when any of it starts to go moldy. But try telling a luscious ripe peach harboring a little bruised and moldy spot, "Sorry, you sweet and juicy and tempting little piece of fruit, it's straight to the compost pile for you!"

Crabby just can't sometimes. Don't be like her.

Anyway, as to how long you're actually supposed to store things in the refrigerator: here's a food safety chart courtesy of the USDA.

Some examples? Most soups, stews, and casseroles seem to be 3-4 days, but meat broths and gravies are 1-2 days. Pizza is 3-4 days, but chicken nuggets are just 1-2 days. Yogurt is 7-14 days; while hard cheeses are up to 6 months unopened. There are lots more interesting information which of course Crabby will either forget or just chuckle at the next time she wants to eat an aged leftover she should be throwing away.

Also the folks at Real Simple put together another great list of how long you can keep stuff in your kitchen cabinets. Some nice surprises here! Olive Oil, two years! Power Bars 12 months! But then vinegar goes bad after 42 months, which seemed strangely specific. And what happens in the 43rd month? As Crabby has a strange assortment of vinegar bottles in varying flavors dating back to the Reagan administration, she should probably find out.

So any thoughts on leftovers, expiration dates, horrible food poisoning experiences, Wednesdays, or anything at all? Crabby loves your comments!

July 10, 2007

Bio-Feedback To Go

It's not exactly news that chronic stress is bad for you. And stress management is a huge topic that Crabby needs to remember to address more. Because here at Cranky Fitness, we hate stress!

But rather than starting off by discussing the basics of Stress and Stress Management and then proceeding from there in a logical and organized fashion, Crabby would rather jump in randomly and talk about biofeedback today. And then perhaps later she will jump in randomly again and talk about some other aspect of Stress Management that appeals to her.

Good thing Cranky Fitness is a health blog and not a text book! It's much more fun to start at Chapter Thirty Eight than back at Chapter One where all the boring basics are.

If you would like to know more about stress management and don't want to wait six or seven years for Crabby to get around to all of it, there is a ton of information on it, both on the web and at your local independent bookstore (or, if you don't have one, perhaps your favorite online source for books whatever that might be). Here is just one tiny little Stress Management Article from WebMD, which is so basic as to not be actually all that helpful, but it will start you off. As for books, Crabby likes a Cognitive/Behavioral Approach, but any big fat book written by respectable people as opposed to loonies will do. There are a lot of basic techniques that everyone seems to know and agree on, and it's all pretty helpful. Smart Readers may have favorites they think highly of.

But back to biofeedback, which is one way to help control stress. Basically, instead of being oblivious to all the crazy sh*t your body may be doing all day long, you get actual physiological "feedback" and then use that to train your body to chill a bit more. This is not the technical definition of Biofeedback, but it will do for now. (There's a more authoritative definition here, which seems to be some sort of government sponsored Medical Encyclopedia. Whatever.)

Traditionally, people did Biofeedback by going to some sort of professional office or Biofeedback Center, where Specially Trained Practitioners would hook them up to Big Machines that would measure physiological signs of stress. Weirdly enough, by monitoring this feedback, and playing around with breathing and relaxation techniques and positive thoughts and whatnot, people could learn to control the physiological reactions their bodies were having. Serious yoga and meditation people seem to already know how to do this, but for the rest of us, it helps to see very concretely the impact that varying relaxation techniques can have.

But of course any time you have Specially Trained Practitioners and Big Expensive Machines, things tend to get expensive. You need multiple sessions over many weeks. A great idea, but not everyone could afford it.

Now however, they've figured out how to make some of the most basic technology cheaper, so you can do it yourself, at home, as often as you need to.

Some of them are even video games. And as it happens, Crabby bought one herself a year or so ago. Now that she has a health blog, she might as well tell you about it.

It was called Journey to the Wild Devine, which seemed like a doofy name. But it was fun! Crabby is not generally a player of video games, and she was quite absorbed with it while she was playing it. There were lots of pretty places to explore, and mysteries to solve and tasks to perform. It was a lot more visually sophisticated than Crabby was expecting. Also, you accomplished all these tasks not by getting all hyper and vigilant, but mostly by the opposite.

The game came with little thingies you put on your fingers to measure skin conductivity level and heart rate. By learning to slow these down or speed them up with your breathing, you make your way through the game. Crabby was so thrilled every time she mastered something! It was quite exciting, in a mellow new-age sort of way.

And did it help with Stress Management? Um, well, she thinks it did, but she really can't remember. This is why Crabby will never have a big future as a Product Reviewer! After she got through all the steps she sort of stopped playing it, and meant to order the next game when it came out since the last one was so much fun, but never got around to it. On the other hand, she hasn't been under much stress so she doesn't really need it anymore.

Though the game may be a deal compared to professional biofeedback clinics, it's still expensive for a game. The whole bundle is around $200, for the sensors and the game that Crabby played and the next one after that Crabby hasn't tried yet. And about $150 you just want the first game.

(And while it might be available on Amazon, Crabby is not going to be quite so crass and whorish as to put in an ad for it here. At least not until way later when it's buried in the archives and only the Googlers will see it. She imagines they will be quite motivated to purchase it, too, with Crabby's compelling endorsement: "Um, I think it helped with stress management, but I don't really remember. And it was kind of expensive. But, well, it was really fun!")

Want to know an even cheaper biofeedback device? Consider your heart rate monitor if you already have one for your cardio. Because you can wear it during the day to work every now and then and notice in real time when your pulse rate gets elevated. Sometimes it's running for the bus, not stress, but other times it can be quite revealing. What are you thinking about when your pulse starts racing? What's happening around you? There's some very interesting data if you want to pursue it. And then you can take calming breaths or other steps to relax yourself until you see it going down again.

(Or you can measure your pulse yourself for free, just using your finger and a watch. But would you in the middle of a staff meeting? A quick glance down at your wrist is a bit less conspicuous).

So does anyone have any experience with biofeedback, or new-agey video games, or any thoughts or recommendations for stress management generally? Crabby promises there will be plenty more on this topic later, in no particular order of course.

July 09, 2007

First Time at the Gym? How Not To Make an Ass of Yourself

Not everyone likes going to the gym. Or can afford to. Or has a reasonably decent one nearby. But what about all those people who could be having a great time there but simply Fear their Local Fitness Center? The whole idea may seem intimidating and fraught with opportunities for humiliation.

Perhaps you are one of these people yourself. Or maybe you Love the Gym but know someone else who could use some advice and encouragement. If so, please read on for the Top Secrets to Not Looking Like a Total Ass Your First Time at the Gym.

But Why Go to the Gym at All?

Good question! Here's why: because even though exercise is not generally "fun," at least not like sex or chocolate cake or winning the Lottery, at the gym it is often less awful than in some other places. Depending on what options are nearby, there are all kinds of things you can play around with to keep you occupied. They have fancy equipment you could never afford yourself; aerobic classes with pulsing music and perky instructors (or their mellower yoga counterparts); they might have pools to swim in and courts to play on and cute buffed trainers to help you personalize your fitness program. Plus, gyms are climate controlled! In short: if you don't have a wonderful outdoor alternative, gyms can be awesome places to get fit without suffering too much.

However, they can seem awfully scary at first. So to help you ease your transition from Newbie to Suave Gym Rat, here are not just one but two lists of Helpful Gym Tips.

First up, a Grim Cautionary List, to keep you out of trouble.

Ten Things to Avoid Doing So You Don't look like an Ass at the Gym:

1. Don't skip the New Member Orientation. These are almost always offered free of charge. This is a great chance to avoid doing something stupid later, especially since some clubs have their own Weird Special Rules or Peculiarities that are far from intuitive. Plus you need to find out what the deal is with towels and day use lockers and parking and such.

And when you do get Oriented, don't be shy about asking tons of questions. Because when you're done with your tour, there's a good chance that your guide is going to have to go back to handing out towels (non-profits) or trying to extract membership sign-up fees from reluctant future patrons (Big Chains). Give this poor person the chance to feel Smart and Helpful!

2. Don't show up ten minutes late for a class you've never been to before, get in everyone's way, and demand that the instructor explain everything over again just for you. Some new gym-goers seem to be under the impression that class "schedules" are just suggestions. Not true! In fact, if you're new, show up extra early and tell the instructor it's your first time. They like you to do this so they can make sure they don't accidentally kill you.

3. When using unfamiliar equipment that won't seem to budge, don't force or yank things around until you break them. Ask for help. However, this generally means Find an Employee. Don't interrupt other exercisers in the middle of their attempts to bench press huge amounts of weight demanding they assist you. As it happens, most gym rats are actually quite helpful. You can usually just look a little confused and scratch your head and this behavior will often prompt one of them to wander over and inquire as to whether you need any help. But if they don't offer, go find someone who works there.

Also, don't mistake a friendly smile and hello as an invitation to relate your entire exercise history or lack of same. Go ahead and smile and be pleasant--if you're going to be a regular, you may actually meet nice people and become friends. But don't rush it and don't be a motor-mouth. Some people are not looking for pals; they just want to get through their exercise routines and scoot out as fast as possible.

4. Don't use the fact that you'll be showering afterwards as an excuse to show up smelling totally nasty and funky. Fresh sweat doesn't really smell--but old body odor and overripe gym clothes are supremely nauseating to be around.

5. Don't drop heavy weights from great heights or slam things around or make exaggerated grunting or screeching noises. (Natural grunting and sighing and groaning is fine). Don't sing or hum either. Sometimes people who have headphones on do this blissfully unaware of how much it makes others want to toss barbells at their heads.

6. Don't neglect to wipe up sweat after you use the cardio or weight equipment. Local sweat-wiping rituals vary from gym to gym and are not always obvious. You should observe what others are doing--there may be little spray bottles and paper towels off to the side or there may not; you may need to carry a hand towel around with you from station to station.

And even if you're not sweaty or dirty or diseased, at many gyms there are resident Hygiene Queens (of either gender) who will stare icy daggers at you if you don't make vigorous wiping gestures with a paper towel after you are done. This also varies greatly. At other gyms, no one gives a crap.

7. If others are waiting, it may be considered obnoxious to hog weight equipment by doing set after set after set with long rest periods in between. If someone is hovering nearby, staring at you, you might want to let them "work in." However, at other gyms, monopolizing the equipment for hours is a God-given right and considered a sign of seriousness. In these gyms, asking to "work in" will be greeted with open hostility. Try to figure out which kind of gym you're in by watching the natives.

8. Don't jump on cardio equipment without knowing the rules. Often this equipment is popular. There may be sign-up boards of some sort, usually located somewhere inconspicuous so as to embarrass first-time visitors who don't know they exist. If a machine seems to be empty and you hop on without scouting this out first, you may get a rude tap on the shoulder and a curt request to remove yourself. You should also check to see if there's a time limit when machines are all in use--often there is.

9. Don't forget where you put your towel, either in showers or up with the equipment, so that you end up grabbing someone else's by mistake. They all look the same. If someone emerges dripping from shower just as you grab theirs from the most convenient hook nearby, you're not going to be popular.

10. Don't forget to pack the toiletries and other items you will need post-shower; asking to borrow other people's stuff is generally frowned upon. (Unless it's someone you're already friends with.) Commonly forgotten items: deodorant, sunscreen, hair product and clean underwear. And there's just no way anyone's gonna help you with that last one.

Next, however, is a more encouraging list. Because it's easier to be negative than positive, this list is of course way, way shorter.

Things You May Fear Will Make You Look Like an Ass, But Won't!

1. Being fat, old, or a complete novice.

Many people fear gyms for these reasons, anticipating that they will be judged or looked down upon.

But here's a big secret: you get Extra Credit for being old, fat, or new. It's true--when buffed regulars see a shy, slightly bewildered, fat or old person come to their gym for the first time, they generally feel all warm and fuzzy about it. They think it's great that you're there and they admire your bravery. Of course they may try to show off a bit, and they may fantasize that you are impressed with their buffness or their ability to lift heavy things. But they genuinely don't think badly of you--they think goodly of you, because they know how hard it was for you to get here. And then, after a moment or two of warm fuzzies, they forget about you entirely because they have Miles to Run or Heavy Things To Lift.

2. Locker Room Issues.

You don't have to fear the locker room!

Locker rooms may seem scary because nakedness is involved. But the secret here is not just that people don't care what you look like naked. They really don't. But you've probably heard that already and it doesn't help. The real secret is that they also don't care if you're too shy to be naked! It's a very common aversion, especially in female newcomers. (Is it the same in Men's Locker Rooms? Cranky Fitness is in the dark on this point as it does not have a male correspondent.) So if you're modest, don't worry about it--go ahead and bring a little robe or a big beach towel or whatever it takes for you to feel comfortable getting from the locker to the shower, even if others seem quite comfortable parading around in the all-together. Many gyms have private showers as well as public ones, and if you're fearful, try to find one of these. You may find, as you get more used to being there, that you actually don't give a crap if a bunch of other naked people see you naked. Or not. Either way, don't let it scare you away from the gym you might otherwise be quite blissfully happy in.

So do readers have any more tips or fears or Horrible or Wonderful gym experiences to share? All comments are, as usual, very appreciated!

July 08, 2007

Slacker Sunday

So it's another laid-back weekend post, even though Crabby took two days "off" during the week. Does the Crab have no work ethic at all? Apparently not!

Actually, in her defense, Crabby is still not very good at getting away from the blog. She spent quite a bit of the time she was supposedly "off" catching up on some blog chores. So readers are getting Randomness and Blog chat today, as is somewhat customary on weekends. Tomorrow: a real health and fitness post again!

So what were these "blog chores?"

First off, Crabby finally updated the Reader Recommendations for the Amazon ads. She messed up the General Health one and didn't realize that it wasn't rotating for several days. It should be fixed now. Note: some of your helpful suggestions do not seem to have usable Amazon codes, or are temporarily unavailable. For example, Jen at The Working Writer suggested some products from The Firm, but Crabby couldn't do it right, so those of you who are interested might want to go to her fine blog to check it out. Beware of her newest post though: there is a picture of donuts on it that could be dangerous to any Sensible Eating Plan you might be on. (Also, as another warning: if you a writer in the aspirational phase of your writing career, as Crabby is, her main website may cause admiration but also moderate to severe pangs of jealousy).

And going back to the product discussion, Crabby is always happy to hear more recommendations! She will stockpile these and work them in over time. She always likes books, but she's also interested in featuring other stuff too, like DVD's, or gadgets like heart rate monitors or the Best Swim Goggles you ever owned or whatever. The main requirements are some relationship to health and fitness, and that you think the thing is really, really good and others might want to give it a try. And why would you bother to do this when there's nothing in it for you? Because Crabby's readers are Smart, Generous, Discerning, and sometimes they have Opinions to Share!

In addition to the Amazon updates, Crabby has a new sidebar addition: "About" pages! These are (a) Very Ugly and (b) Still Rudimentary, but if you're feeling bored someday, please go check them out. Crabby has never been able to figure out how to do "static" pages on Blogger, so this is just a half-assed solution. These hideous looking GooglePages do, however, provide a little more space than the sidebar to feature Policies and Information and Explanations. Crabby hopes to add to these over time. (She also wants to make sure they actually work and do not have sneaky ads on them that she did not put there, so please report any weirdness you might encounter).

Enough about the blog! Here are your Random Research Posts for the day.

Are you on some sort of liquid diet with yucky shakes instead of real food? Might want to rethink that. A study out of Purdue University on solid versus liquid food found that liquid foods did not seem to fill people up the way solid foods did. Those who drank their lunch rather than ate it consumed more calories during the day.

This one you probably heard already, but it's the sort of Good News study that Crabby doesn't want you to miss. Another study says Dark Chocolate is good for lowering blood pressure, but this one found small but measurable benefits even with tiny amounts of chocolate--only 30 calorie's worth. (Though to Crabby, that seems like a criminally low dosage of an Important Health Food!)

And finally, there's this amusing study, which isn't recent, but somehow seemed perfect for readers of Cranky Fitness. Though Crabby has not reached Old Age yet, she thinks she sees her future quite clearly!