February 27, 2009

Foxes and Hedgehogs

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
--Some ancient Greek dude named Archilochus

Research suggests that some people are "hedgehogs" and others are "foxes." This dichotomy came up recently in a Newsweek article about political pundits. Inspired by the ancient Greek poet, and further developed by philosopher Isaiah Berlin, the division of the world into people who think like "foxes" versus "hedgehogs" is a handy concept.

So how you do spot a "hedgehog" or a "fox" in the wild?

According to the article, hedgehogs know "one big thing." They "apply that one thing everywhere, express supreme confidence in their forecasts, dismiss opposing views and are drawn to top-down arguments deduced from that Big Idea."

Foxes, on the other hand, "know many things. They consider competing views, make bottom-up inductive arguments from an array of facts and doubt the power of Big Ideas."

"At one extreme, hedgehogs seek certainty and closure, dismiss information that undercuts their preconceptions and embrace evidence that reinforces them, in what is called 'belief defense and bolstering.' At the other extreme, foxes are cognitively flexible, modest and open to self-criticism."

Are you a Fox or a Hedgehog? And who would you rather listen to on TV?

The Newsweek article explored the reasons why the experts you hear pontificating in the media often have their heads up their asses make inaccurate predictions about what's going to happen in the future.

Turns out, it's at least partly because the media favors the very sort of pundit who is the least able to make accurate predictions. "The media's preferred pundits are forceful, confident and decisive, not tentative and balanced." The problem: these are not the people we should be listening to.

(This is all based on research by Philip Tetlock, who did a big study on the accuracy of expert predictions and wrote a book about it a few years ago.)

Those forceful, highly-regarded pundits? They're generally "hedgehogs." And compared to the more tentative "foxes," hedgehogs are really bad at predicting what will happen in the future. Tetlock looked at 82,361 predictions by 284 pundits, and found that the "The hedgehog-fox dimension distinguished more accurate forecasters from less accurate ones." And the more well-known the expert? The less likely it was he or she would be accurate.

Cranky Fitness prides itself on being totally obscure, so if we were ever to try to predict anything, you could totally trust us!

Also, without having read either Berlin or Tetlock, we created a somewhat similar "cognitive style analysis" a while back: the Screaming Baby-Heads versus the Wishy-Washy Grown-Ups.) Alas, Newsweek is not citing our analysis, which is too bad, because we could use a little publicity so we could let it go to our heads and get all confident and forceful like the hedgehogs!

Anyway, is it safe to assume that most of us here are Foxes, not Hedgehogs? Cranky Fitness does not have "the answer" to anything. Around here, it's all "maybe," and "apparently" and "on the other hand" and "what do we know?" and "whooops!" We also kinda get from reading your comments that you guys are every bit as flexible and balanced and confused as we are. This is Fox territory, not a great roosting place for Hedgehogs.

But Hey, Aren't We Cute When We're Angry?
(Photo: meantux)

"Tentative, Balanced, and Proud of It!"

It's not a very catchy slogan, is it? But that's how we roll.

It's funny, this post was originally going to be about "Hedgehog Envy." Because sometimes I do think it would be so nice to be a Hedgehog! It would be so much easier to look at the confusing, ever-changing, frustrating, complicated world we live in and feel less conflicted and mystified.

But it's almost like there's something in the air--a barely perceptible change in tone that making the world a bit more hospitable to foxes these days. Not that we'll ever hear the end of the hedgehogs--the media will continue to favor them and of course they NEVER shut up.

However (and this may just be wishful thinking), I get the sense that regular people (as opposed to media outlets) are getting weary of all the forceful hedgehog types out there. The defensive posturing, inflexibility, black and white thinking, and "easy" answers--these don't seem the best match for the messy, complicated world we live in right now.

But I'm not a hedgehog, so what the hell do I know? What do you folks think about foxes and hedgehogs?

February 26, 2009

Thursday Quiz: answers

Remember the quiz yesterday?

Okay, let me rephrase that. Do you remember yesterday? At all?
(Really? Can you pass that bottle of Lethe water this way?)

Yesterday I posted a quiz of true and pseudo stories in the news. Here's the list of answers.

1. This week, scientists came out with research that suggests there might be a universal cure for:

c. The flu. Looks like there might be an antibody that would help fend off different flu viruses.

2. A new book is coming out that promises to merge classic English literature with modern-day sensibilities. Its title is:

b. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Jane Austen's classic tale... now, with zombies. The novel starts out, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." (It's coming out in June 2009, so you'll have to wait to read the whole thing in all its gory detail.)

3a. A study found that companies who give incentives to quit Smoking have had some success with this method. To quote the clinical trials website:

The financial incentives were $100 for completion of a smoking-cessation program, $250 for cessation of smoking within 6 months after study enrollment, as confirmed by a biochemical test, and $400 for abstinence for an additional 6 months after the initial cessation, as confirmed by a biochemical test. Individual participants were stratified according to work site, heavy or nonheavy smoking, and income. The primary end point was smoking cessation 9 or 12 months after enrollment, depending on whether initial cessation was reported at 3 or 6 months. Secondary end points were smoking cessation within the first 6 months after enrollment and rates of participation in and completion of smoking-cessation programs.

4c is false.
4a. True. Male Praying Mantis insects prefer not to become victims of sexual cannibalism. (Yes, someone did a study to find that answer.)
4b. True. A male fish is more likely to eat fertilized fish eggs if other male fish have been visiting the missus.
4d. True. Female rattlesnakes have been shown to consume their young. Generally they consume the "non-viable" portion of the offspring, but not always. Hey, it's hard work birthin' that many babies!

Well? How'd you do?

Thursday Quiz

Some days just call out for a quiz, in my opinion. There's no prize for the right answers, except the joy of intellectual fulfillment, but what the hell. It's Thursday.


1. This week, scientists came out with research that suggests there might be a universal cure for:

a. The common cold

b. Hangnails

c. The flu

d. Those annoying little coughs that hang about for weeks even though you're feeling much better.

2. A new book is coming out that promises to merge classic English literature with modern-day sensibilities. Its title is:

a. Wuthering Bites... featuring Heathcliffe the Vampire

b. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies... the title kinda says it all, doesn't it?

c. David Copperfield: the real story. Dickens' heart-warming tale now features a lad who grows up to make his mark in the world of magic.

d. The Call of the Wild Werewolf... Jack London's classic tale of a man and his dog has been updated to tell the tale of a man who is his own best friend...

3. According to a study just out this month, companies that hand out financial incentives can help employees to stop:

a. Smoking cigarettes

b. Drinking alcohol

c. Eating at fast-food restaurants

d. Reading blogs at work

I has a money. What I do wif it?

4. One of the following studies is false. Can you spot which one?

a. The males of the preying mantis species prefer not to be the victims of sexual cannibalism.

b. Male fish will cannibalize fish eggs if they suspect the female fish have been sleeping with other male fish.

c. Male black widow spiders have been known to kill the female spider after mating, instead of the other way around.

d. Female rattlesnakes recover faster from childbirth if they eat their young.

How did you do? Feeling confident?
I'll post the answers to the quiz at Midnight.

Photo courtesy of John Althouse Cohen.

February 25, 2009

Zzzmail, Yikes!

Many of you may have already caught this item, since it's a couple months old, but I only saw it recently and I have to say it both cracked me up and scared thebejeesus out of me:

Researchers recently reported a case of a woman who got on her computer and sent emails while sleeping. She invited several friends over for drinks and caviar.

Apparently the woman went to bed around 10pm, but got up a couple hours later and, in her sleep, walked to the next room and sat down at her computer. She was able to conn­ect to the web, log on with her user name and password, and write and send three emails. She only found out what she had done when a friend called the next day to accept the invitation.

The article points out that the emails "were perhaps not up to the woman’s waking standard; each was in a random mix of upper and lower case characters, badly formatted and containing odd expressions. One read: 'Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, 4.pm. Bring wine and caviar only.' Another said simply: 'What the…'"

The woman had no history of sleepwalking or night terrors; however, it was thought that the episode could have been triggered by prescript­ion medication.

The researchers named this new form of sleepwalking: "zzzmailing."

Holy cow, I'm going to stay away from prescription sleep medication! Because after zzzmail, I'm guessing zzzblogging can't be too far behind. Believe me, you do not want to read a "zblog" by written by a somnambulent Crabby McSlacker.

Anyone ever experience any weird sleep phenomenon yourselves? I'm lucky; mine is lucid dreaming which is actually a whole lot of fun. Or do you know of any poor souls who sleepwalk or do freakish things while asleep?

Giveaway Winners and Important Reminders!

Not only do we have a iPosture winner, but we have a NEW winner in the Vado HD Pocket video camera giveaway. Yep, we had to consult with Mr. Random Number generator again because the previous winner did not come forward and contact us with mailing info by the deadline. (Or actually, by the deadline plus several additional days.)

We are indeed strict Prize-Mistresses here at Cranky Fitness. We will REDRAW if a winner does not check in!

Claim your prize or else!

Are you now worried that if you win one of our drawings, an email glitch might accidentally send your email out into an obscure corner of the blogosphere rather than in the safe haven of Crabby McSlacker's mailbox? We worry about that too! So it's actually not a bad idea to also leave a comment letting us know you saw that you won and are sending your contact info, especially if you don't hear back from us in a day or so.

So our giveaway winners are...

iPosture winner: Ruth!

Vado Winner: Sagan!

Winners, please email at Crabby McSlacker @ gmail dot com (some assembly required) and let us know your name and mailing address by midnight Saturday Feb 28.

Guest Post Reminder: Anyone interested in writing a guest post for Cranky Fitness?? I'll be off for a couple of weeks starting March 1 (we're making our way via circuitous route back to Provincetown, MA). It's hard not to notice that Cranky Fitness commenters always have more sensible, witty, and interesting things to say about health and fitness than I do, so it would be awesome if any of you wanted to share your thoughts in a guest post. Fortunately, Merry will still be here, but we still have plenty of room for guests.

Note: a guest post doesn't have to be a boring old essay like the Crab writes. It could be a picture, a video, a cartoon you've drawn, a poem... We'd love to hear from you!

February 24, 2009

Carpe Diet! The Recession Diet, Cranky Fitness style

You know that phrase, dance as if nobody's watching?

I've updated it for today: Live as if you've already been laid off.

After reading the daily news, I started thinking what I would do if Crabby laid me off. For starters, I would go 100% vegetarian, grow my own lettuce and kale and things like that.

Then I thought -- why shouldn't I start doing this already? Apparently living as if you were laid off is becoming quite the In trend-du-season. There's even been a catchy name coined for people who do this: Recessionistas. Wiktionary defines this term as "who is able to stick to a tight budget while still managing to dress stylishly."

If I were laid off, I like to think that I'd read a lot of finance blogs, like The Simple Dollar for tips on how to cut back on expenses. Stop using my car to get about -- bicycle, walk, or take the train to get places. I'd read the Escape from Cubicle Nation blog to get enthusiasm for finding my ideal job. I'd eat lots more vegetables.

Why don't I do that now? Following this process would be good for me.
I'll save money, feel cheerful about my job, and become extremely healthy.

It's true that were I laid off, I would have a lot more time to do these things. On the other hand, the time to start living this way is while you're still employed.

Why? Because...

Once laid off, based on past experience, I'd probably sink into depression and stay in bed half the time, then go on frantic job searches, forgetting about details such as healthy vegetables and exercise.

Then I'd sit by the phone biting my nails rather than something useful like washing the floor, or polishing the door or trying to ignore some other bore chore. Probably start writing paragraphs that rhymed for no readily apparent reason.

So I figure this is the time to seize the moment. Carpe Diet. Make it a habit while I can. If nothing else, focusing my attention on living this way will take my mind off the daily news. (And does anyone else think maybe they should go on a News diet, just to clean the mind out?)

Judging by what's out there in Internet land, everybody's thinking along similar lines.

The BBC did a video report on the new Recession diet.
[Text for the video-impaired: everybody's eating at McDonald's these days, because it's cheaper.]

Diet Blog wrote about getting a recession-proof body.

Get Rich Slowly wrote about cutting your TV bill in half.

Even the New York Times had a post about their version of the Recession diet -- buying a cheaper brand of marshmallows.

The best advice I saw on this subject was the Recession Diet post written by The Simple Dollar back in April of last year: focus on inexpensive staple foods, keep to your shopping list, "Pay attention to what you like that also happens to be healthy... especially when it's on sale."

Do you have any good Recession Diet tips that you could share? I figure we're all in this together. We can toast that cheaper brand of marshmallows over the fire while we're at it.

Photo credit: mikebaird

February 22, 2009

Can Stress Be Good For You?

Photo: Kelvin255

According to an article in Newsweek, stress has a undeservedly bad reputation.

I saw the magazine cover: "Stress Could Save Your Life (Or at Least it's Better for You Than You Think") and thought: awesome! But I also wondered: Really, can that be right?

If true, this would be great news. I've read dozens, if not hundreds, of studies over the years saying just how bad chronic stress is for your health. (These studies are of course stressful to read. "Wait, I'll get Alzheimer's, heart disease, and Parkinsons if I don't stop worrying about Alzheimer's, heart disease, and Parkinsons??!!").

But I found myself skeptical. How could something that's generally recognized as bad for you all of a sudden be good? It's like reading we should be eating a lot more cheeseburgers and ice cream, and a lot fewer vegetables. Welcome news, perhaps, but is really OK to stop stressing about stress?

By the end of the article, I still wasn't quite sure. There seems to be growing recognition that certain kinds of stress aren't bad at all--in certain situations, for certain people. But the kind of stress that most of us worry about--the nagging, chronic, "how are we gonna pay the bills" kind--didn't exactly get the "all clear" I'd hoped for.

Trying to Put Common Sense Back into the Conversation:

The main theme of the article seems to be that stress researchers have been so focused on the negative impact of stress, they've led us to believe that stress can never be positive.

Which is silly! It's not always negative. For example, have you ever made it successfully through an oral exam, a Big Game, a music recital, a job interview, or some other situation you were scared to death of? I don't have any handy studies to cite, but surely the sense of exhilaration and accomplishment after a dreaded event must be good for us? It's so motivating and rewarding!

Yet according to the author, she kept running into researcher after researcher who claimed "good stress" didn't exist. "We never tell people stress is good for them," one said. "Another allowed that it might be, but only in small ways, in the short term, in rats." As to people who claim to thrive on stress, like some policemen or ER docs or air-traffic controllers? The author talked to experts who said these people were "pathological."

Fortunately, she eventually found a few experts with more sensible sentiments. Like: "some stress is healthy and necessary to keep us alert and occupied." Or, "most people do their best under mild to moderate stress."

Other pro-stress opinions quoted in the article: "The stress response...evolved to help us survive... In the short term, it can energize us, revving up our systems to handle what we have to handle."

"In the long term, stress can motivate us to do better at jobs we care about. A little of it can prepare us for a lot later on, making us more resilient. Even when it's extreme, stress may have some positive effects—which is why, in addition to posttraumatic stress disorder, some psychologists are starting to define a phenomenon called posttraumatic growth."

OK, I'll buy that. And the "posttraumatic growth" idea sounds interesting. Because we all know of folks who have been transformed in positive ways by really awful experiences. But what about the bad kind of stress we always hear about?

Acute vs Chronic Stress

While acute stress and the "fight or flight" response may be handy in the short term, problems can arise when we can't shut it off. At some point, "neurons get tired of being primed, and positive effects become negative ones...Neurons shrivel and stop communicating with each other, and brain tissue shrinks in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which play roles in learning, memory and rational thought."

Whoops, that doesn't sound good!

But another Newsweek article in the same issue argued that the relationship between stress and disease has been over-sold. The author claimed that while stress can worsen the symptoms of any disease, it is seldom the sole explanation for a patient's suffering. But then a related link to WebMD reminds us that chronic worrying can lead to a whole bunch of health problems, like suppression of the immune system, digestive disorders, muscle tension, short-term memory loss, premature coronary artery disease, and even heart attacks.

Again, not quite the reassurance I was hoping for.

Tough Childhoods, Zen Monkeys, and Special Forces

One important point the article made was that research has done a lousy job of recognizing how much individual difference there is in how people handle stress. Some people are easily overwhelmed; others are much more resilient. Which kind are you?

For example, research on laid-off telephone workers in the 1970s and 1980's found that while most of the workers suffered with higher rates of divorce, heart attacks, obesity and strokes--a third of the workers handled the transition well. Why? Well, many of them had "fairly tough childhoods that led to their being very hardy people." So early stress can sometimes lead to greater resilience later in life.

Similarly, a baboon researcher (wait... I mean a guy who studies baboons, not a baboon who conducts research) found that some alpha males who were subject to the usual baboon stressors—"power struggles, unsuccessful sexual overtures, the occasional need to slap down a subordinate" had stable hormone levels, unlike like other more Stressed Out alphas. These baboons were essentially "minimalist Zen masters." (Alas, none of them are leading any self-help seminars that I know of, so don't get your hopes up about learning Baboon Zen Management techniques any time soon).

The most fascinating example of individual differences? Check out how the military goes about testing and training soldiers for highly dangerous missions. (It totally freaked me out. Note to self: do not join the military and sign up for Dangerous Assignments!!) Anyway, they discovered that elite Special Forces soldiers had different physiological reactions to extremely stressful situations than the regular army guys, and thus performed much better. Apparently they released more of a brain chemical, NPY, which works as a natural tranquilizer.

But the weirdest part? One of the predictors of who would do best under extreme stress (and release more NPY) was heart rate variability. The best survivors didn't have much of it; they had "metronomic heartbeats." However, while it may make you a Superhero under extreme stress, the downside of this metronomic effect? It's "usually associated with early heart disease and even sudden death." Healthy people generally have more heartrate variability.

So for us wimpy folks who panic under stress? Perhaps we shouldn't be too envious of the Superhero types after all!

How Do You Folks Cope With Stress?

From everything I've read, it sounds like meditation is one of the best weapons in the battle against chronic stress--but as I've mentioned before, I suck at it. So I tend to pursue other options: exercise, deep breathing, relaxing music, and "cognitive" interventions. And by "cognitive interventions," I mean trying to think more like a rational person and less like a lunatic when it comes to things that worry me.

How about you guys? Feeling any extra stress these days, and if so, how do you cope? Can you turn it into a positive, rather than a negative in your life?

February 20, 2009

iPosture Review and Giveaway!

What the heck is an iPosture? Well, it's "an intuitive electronic device designed to improve posture."And in a rare proactive move, I actually sought out the chance to review one. Why? Because one thing no one has ever said about me: "Crabby McSlacker, she's no slouch!"

It's true: in addition to being a slacker, I also have a Posture Problem.

So if you're wondering what the iPosture does, whether it does it well, and how to win one of your own, please follow me over to a brand new post on the Cranky Fitness Product Review Page!

Guest post at Workout Mommy: part II

Just a quick announcement: instead of her usual great posts, Workout Mommy is running guest posts from some of your favorite bloggers--like Crabby! Today it's Merry's turn.

February 19, 2009

TV, Internet, and Your Brain

So, confession time. I'm a Luddite.

No, Crabby, that's not a new religion! I mean I am reluctant to adopt a lot of the new technological 'advancements' out there. I'm so un-cool that I don't even have cable TV. I finally got around to configuring the digital converter so that I could get my local TV news fix in the morning.

Geez. I am not impressed. Even with an electronic antenna to amplify the signal, I am getting about half the channels on my 'fixed' TV that I was getting with the old analog signals. Bah humbug. I figure if war breaks out in my small town, someone will mention it to me.
more animals

Besides, watching TV is bad for you. People can watch TV while they work out, but they rarely do.

Watching TV lowers physical activity. Well, that seems fairly self-evident. Many people watch television while eating dinner or relaxing after work. The trouble is, once people start watching television, they're less likely to get up on the treadmill and start exercising while they watch. I'm still trying to find a study that conclusively proves that the gravitational field around a couch increases as a direct result of a person flopping down on the couch and picking up a remote. I've seen enough anecdotal evidence to make it clear that something happens.

Watching TV makes teenagers more likely to eat fast food. A study that followed about 2000 teenagers and concluded that "high-school kids who watched more than five hours of television per day had a lower intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and calcium-rich foods; and higher intakes of snack foods, fried foods, fast food, sugar-sweetened beverages, and trans fats five years later."


To balance this out, I thought it would be fair to include a couple of studies showing how hanging out on the Internet can be bad for you too. I mean, you're sitting still in both cases. But apparently there is a severe lack of studies being undertaken on this subject.

There are studies showing that people can become addicted to the Internet. One researcher claims that up to "10% of all Internet users are afflicted with Internet Addiction Disorder." Hmph. Seems a bit high. Apparently people who cause or suffer from Empty Nest syndrome are more likely to be susceptible to this addiction, i.e. people in their teenage years or in their mid-50s.

Maybe sitting and looking at the computer screen isn't so bad, healthwise. If nothing else, the act of writing burns more calories than watching television does. A 120-pound person burns approximately 55 calories an hour just sitting and watching television. The same person would burn approximately 100 calories by sitting and typing. (Totally spurious Anecdotal evidence suggests that when typing comments on a Cranky Fitness blog, the average person burns 3,325 calories an hour.)

Besides, the Internet provides all kinds of useful information. Some people rely on sources like Daily Kos. Me, I rely on XKCD to tell me the real scoop.

If you had to choose between TV and the Internet, which would you choose?

February 18, 2009

Can Money Buy Happiness?

A new study says: yes, sometimes money can buy happiness, depending on how you spend it.

The topic seems quite timely, because what with the economy in such dire straits, many of us are worried about what we're spending our money on. We naturally want to get the most bang for our buck.

So let's say someone handed you a few thousand dollars you weren't expecting. (Hooray!) According to this latest study, what do you think the wisest investment of this money would be for your personal happiness?

a. Get your car fixed so that you're not driving around on bald tires with an engine that stalls out at unpredictable moments, thus increasing the chances you'll make it to work alive every morning;

b. Replace the upstairs toilet with one that doesn't spontaneously flush every half an hour, and finally do something about that black mold some annoying plumber told you was probably "toxic";

c. Buy yourself a Rolex;

d. Take some friends on a trip to an exotic island to go snorkeling.

Clearly you'll be much happier if you...

(d) Take everyone snorkeling, of course!

This is why I tend to hate "happiness" studies.

True, the study didn't actually ask this exact question. But it does irritate me that researchers aren't very good at measuring the peaceful, stable, boring kinds of happiness--like the kind you get knowing that the bills are paid and there is food in the refrigerator.

Anyway, in this study, researchers found that "experiential" purchases such as "a meal out or theater tickets," led to "increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs." They concluded that "buying life experiences rather than material possessions leads to greater happiness."

I actually agree that this is mostly true. (More on that in a moment). And other research has said experiences beat possessions too. But I still have to gripe about the study because griping makes me happy! Take that, happiness researchers.

Anyway, participants were asked "to write reflections and answer questions" about what they'd bought recently. Since "participants indicated that experiential purchases represented money better spent and greater happiness" the researchers concluded this must be true.

I'm sorry nice researchers, but I think the methodology of the study screws with the results. Would you be willing to rhapsodize in a little essay about your new iPod, not to mention that nifty low-flow toilet, the same way you might a trip to the symphony? You're going to sound much cooler (and have more to say) about a recent "experience" than a "thing." Does it really mean you will get more happiness out of the fleeting experience than the "thing" in the long run? (Although personally, I could write a 5,000 word essay on why I still love the garlic press I got for a Christmas present five years ago, but then I'm a little odd).

In Defense of Possessions:
Here's my main objection to the research: I think "possessions" vs "experiences" is a false dichotomy. Because something like a bicycle, or a great book, or a new plant to put in the garden, or a bowling ball may technically be an object, but it also can create or transform an experience and provide a lot of happiness.

I think the real debate should be about things we buy for status, versus things we buy for our own comfort or pleasure or adventure. An "experiential" dinner eaten at a Trendy Restaurant is, in my mind, a lousy bargain if you only went because it seemed like a sophisticated thing to do. But a great book or a new kitchen gadget or a comfy pair of running shoes can be a great happiness bargain, if using them gives you pleasure.

The relationship of money to happiness is a fascinating topic, isn't it? Because we all have opinions about money, and about happiness. And we're all pretty sure we're spending our money the right way, on the best things.

Of course the research pretty consistently says that we're clueless. Money doesn't buy us nearly the happiness we think it will; and we tend to spend it on dumb things.

It does help to get your basic needs met. But according to an interesting article on money and happiness from a couple of years ago, "going from earning less than $20,000 a year to making more than $50,000 makes you twice as likely to be happy, yet the payoff for then surpassing $90,000 is slight."

Do you ever marvel at people who spend a fortune on luxury automobiles and vastly oversized homes, then find themselves working insane hours at jobs they hate in order to pay for them? (Sometimes there's even a perverse kind of happiness in noting how silly other people are about their choices).

All kinds of things make me happy; some of them (like massages, good restaurants, or travel to foreign countries) are expensive. But while it may be a bit of a cliche that "the best things in life are free," sometimes it's true. Or at least they're pretty cheap. Other favorites: a cup of good coffee in the morning; a peaceful stroll along a beach or through the woods; music so beautiful it makes you sigh; a laughter-filled evening with best friends; or a blissful weekday evening hunkered down with a beloved spouse, a pizza, a purring cat and a favorite tv show.

So do you folks think money can buy happiness? What do you think are good happiness "bargains?" Any examples you've seen of really lame ways to try to buy happiness?

February 17, 2009

Darwin in the gym

Darwin is the name most associated with the concept of evolution, so I'm using his name, symbolic like, to indicate that this post deals with evolution. In the gym.

No, I'm not talking about people on the monkey bars starting to walk upright or anything like that.

I'm talking about Punctuated Equilibrium. Which has nothing to do with someone balancing on one leg trying to think about punctuation.

Punctuated equilibrium is one of those terms evolutionary biologists like to talk about: great bursts of change followed by long periods of slacktitude.

(Yes, I know that a) that's a major generalization of the theory, b) Darwin didn't write about punctuated equilibrium, and c) neither Darwin nor any other evolutionary theorist has ever used the word 'slacktitude' in his writings.)

What's that got to do with the gym?

My exercise routine also follows this pattern. I get all motivated, fired up with great bursts of enthusiasm. I do great for awhile, coast on my momentum for awhile, then... start... to ... slow... down...

The past week month or so I have been majorly uninspired to work out -- at all -- ever -- I mean we're talking time-to-hang-up-those-running-shoes-and-put-on-those-slippers, I need to re-bond with my couch and the remote.
[Photo credit: Pat Hawks]

Only one thing to do in a situation like that -- go shopping.
[Photo credit: MarkHillary]

No, not that kind of shopping. I got another damn exercise DVD.

Last time this happened, I followed the couch to 5k schedule. Before that it was swinging kettlebells. (Crabby's right, they don't ring. For that matter, who has a kettle shaped like that? Or that weighs that much? I vote we change the name officially to something else.)

The trouble is that I want exercise to be a habit without its becoming a bore. So I try all these different methods to keep the relationship between me and my exercise routine fresh and exciting. I want to stay in the sweetheart dating stage of exercising and avoid the responsible, adult, settling-down-and-raising-the-kids stuff.

Damn. Don't you hate it when a blogger switches metaphors in mid-post like that? Is exercise like evolution or like a relationship? Hell, maybe it's both.

From what I can tell from the comments, all of you are responsible, hard-working, and in a committed relationship with your exercise routine. Do you have any secrets for success? That you can share, I mean. Darwin and I would love to hear them.

Vado Pocket HD Video Camera: The Winner!

The crowd gathers at Midnight.

Anxious fans from all over wait breathlessly for the final stroke of the clock tolling 12, so they can hear that the winner of the Vado Pocket HD video camera giveaway is...

Ariel, congratulations! Please email your address to crabbymcslacker at gmail dot com by Saturday, February 21st.

[Photo courtesy Ali Brohi]

February 16, 2009

Happily Ever After

What sort of person should you spend the rest of your life with?

A recent survey looked at how men and women decide which qualities are most important in choosing a romantic partner. Researchers at the University of Iowa surveyed 1,100 undergrads--and then compared their answers to past surveys.

So, care to guess how important "chastity" is now, compared to back in the 1930's? Or how differently men and women responded to the same questions?

What Do Today's Men Want in a Partner?

Here's what the guys said (ranked from most to least in importance):

Essential characteristics:
  • Mutual attraction and love.
  • Dependable character.
  • Emotional stability.

Important characteristics:
  • Education and intelligence.
  • Good looks.
  • Ambition.

Desirable characteristics:
  • Good financial prospect.
  • Good cook and housekeeper.

Unimportant characteristics:
  • Similar political background.
  • Chastity.

And How About What the Gals Want?

Essential characteristics:
  • Mutual attraction and love.
  • Dependable character.
  • Emotional stability.

Important characteristics:
  • Education and intelligence.
  • Desire for home and children.
  • Ambition.

Desirable characteristics:
  • Good looks.
  • Refinement.

Unimportant characteristics:
  • Similar political background.
  • Chastity.

What? Men and Women Are Almost the Same!

OK, heterosexuals, you'll have to help me out on this one: I thought gender roles, expectations, and stereotypes were supposed to be alive and well out there in dating land. From the popular media, one would think that in terms of priorities, it's pretty simple: guys want hotties; women want successful Masters of the Universe. So shouldn't these two lists look a little more different from each other?

Are things really changing, or are undergraduates just lying when they take surveys?

True, "Good cook and housekeeper" did not seem to appear very high on women's lists; also women rated their desire for home and children higher than men did (fourth for women; ninth for men). But otherwise: remarkably similar.

So How Have Times Changed?

Love and attraction was not always ranked the most important item; back a few generations ago, it wasn't even even in the top three.

In the 1930s "male respondents were seeking a dependable, kind lady who had skills in the kitchen." And chastity was considered more important than intelligence; it was ranked tenth. Now, chastity is "dead last."

Men have also grown more appreciative of womens' earning ability: they ranked "good financial prospect" 12th in 2008; it was 18th in 1967, and 17th in 1939.

For women back in the 1930s, emotional stability, dependable character and ambition were the top three characteristics they wanted in a man. Attraction and love didn't come in until No. 5.

Women these days rank "pleasing disposition" much further down than they did in the old days. But researchers weren't sure what that meant. Are women ditching nice, amiable guys in favor of churlish louts? Or did the old-fashioned wording of "pleasing disposition" just throw women off?

So What Does Crabby Think of this Survey?

1. It's very cute! It's kind of adorable reading what young people think they are looking for in a mate.

2. However, when it comes to predicting the type of partner these young folks will actually choose? A survey like this is pretty much horseshit.

3. Here's the big fat loophole: "Love and Mutual Attraction" as number one. This means that despite a person's stated desire to find a mate who is dependable, stable, smart, well-educated, and ambitious, all those qualities go right out the window when an "attractive" person strikes up a conversation in a bar one night.

4. Young men really rate "education" above "good looks?" Color me skeptical.

5. Are these even the right questions to ask? Given the sort of mates people frequently end up with, more careful screening might be advised. It's one thing to say that "dependable character" and "emotional stability" are important; it's another thing to know what those traits actually look like in a real live attractive human being.

You may, for example, may want to consider:

  • Does Potential Mate get arrested with any frequency?
  • Does he/she lack boundaries, and have all kinds of weird scary friends and ex-lovers hanging around?
  • Always borrowing money?
  • Will sometimes hit on your friends?
  • Dictatorial and stubborn?
  • Mean to children, pets, subordinates at work, or anyone else with less power?
  • Jealous or possessive?
  • Frequent liar?
  • Physically violent, verbally abusive, or constantly angry?
  • Substance abuse issues?
  • Unexplained disappearances?
  • Always has to be "right?"
  • Frequently fired from jobs for "absolutely no reason?"

None of these are good signs! No matter how cute and charming a potential mate can be, wrong answers to these questions should be cause for alarm. Yet many folks who would swear that they are looking for an emotionally stable, dependable, spouse don't seem to know what this means. Instead they fall for inappropriate emotional trainwrecks, and can't wait to say "I do" no matter how many red flags are flying.

I Could But I Won't. Yet.

This is one area where I actually feel well-qualified to offer advice. I think 99% of having a blissfully happy long-term relationship is choosing the right person to begin with. Having found a Winner myself, it's tempting to set out a bunch of helpful criteria to help people end up as lucky as I am. (Other than the obvious disaster-avoidance ones above).

And I probably will one day, because I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on the issue and this post is already long enough.

But really, who cares what anyone else advises when it comes to matters of the heart?

The human physiological and psychological responses to romantic attraction are so damn powerful, no "helpful advice" is gonna have much impact. Yet as a bystander, does anyone else find it hard to just butt out when you see a friend or loved one stuck on someone wildly inappropriate?


So, for those of you who are looking, what qualities seem most important in a potential mate? And for those of you who have already chosen, were there any qualities which turned out to be a lot more important than you thought they'd be?

Guest Posts at Workout Mommy

Just a quick announcement: instead of her usual great posts, Workout Mommy is running guest posts from some of your favorite bloggers--like Mizfit! The Crab is up today.

February 13, 2009

Random Friday!

Pay Attention to Crabby Now, Ya Hear?
(Photo: Shorpy)

Yep, it's indeed a very random Friday this week. (Or should I say a Freaky Friday? For any of you who stopped by earlier and were greeted with a post that made no sense because it was missing the middle half--it's fixed now! Sorry about that! Guess I need to think again about pre-publishing posts to appear first thing in the morning East Coast time, hours before I can see them.)

So anyway, in addition to a tiny bit of research, some blog links, and a fair amount of silliness, we've got a few Official Announcements to make.

I know, you're saying to yourselves, "oh boy, blog announcements, I'm so excited!!!"

Er, maybe not. But you if you see some announcements on the way down to visit the silly videos at the bottom of the post, don't worry! They won't bite, I promise.

First Announcement: Call for Guest Posts!

Yep, it's that time again. Crabby will soon be making her bi-annual cross-country trek. The Crab, the Lobster, and the Moo (she's a cat, not a cow, for those who are new here) will be migrating from the West Coast to the East Coast in a couple of weeks. But fear not, Merry will still be here, thank goodness! And who knows, Crabby may be doing some posting from the road. But it's also a great time for a little variety, and if any of you have a health and fitness-related guest post you'd like to submit, please give us a holler.

I'm not exactly sure of our departure date, or how long we'll be on the road. But mostly likely we'll take off about March 1 and be gone ten days to two weeks or so.

Second Announcement: Random BlogRoll Update!

I have officially given up the fantasy that I will ever keep the random rotating blogroll properly updated without help. We've been fairly picky about not just adding folks with possibly sketchy sites who have no particular relationship with Cranky Fitness (no matter how many times they email us). On the other hand, I've gotten really lazy about noticing when a regular commenter or linker to Cranky Fitness has a cool blog that's not yet on our blogroll. I always think that if I like your blog, it must be listed already, but often I'm wrong!

Since the display is random, you may have to visit fairly often to figure out if your blog is on it. But if you have hoped in vain for your blog to appear one day and it never has, and you are a Friend of Cranky Fitness, please add a comment or send us an email with your blog name and URL and we'll update! Likewise, if anyone notices any defunct blogs on there we can take 'em out.

One Last Announcement: Check Out Acacia, Our Newest Sponsor!

Cranky Fitness really, really appreciates our independent sponsors. There are few companies forward-thinking and open-minded enough to work with individual blogs when they could just go to Google or Blogher and make the process a lot easier. Instead, these guys generously support independent, scrappy little blogs directly and we love them for that! We're also psyched to advertise actual quality health and fitness products instead of crappy diet pill ads. (And we've got a couple more cool independents coming soon too, so stay tuned.)

So we'd like to officially introduce you to Acacia. Some of you may remember them from their awesome DVD giveaways earlier. They have a great selection of fitness titles of all different sorts, from Bollywood Dance Workouts to Keeping Fit in Your Fifties. So if you haven't had a chance to check out their catalog, try visiting to see what they've got! (And by checking them out, you make Cranky Fitness look like an influential sort of blog, rather than an irrelevant, ignorable blog, and we totally, totally appreciate that.)

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Blogging the Deep Stuff:

It's rare that the Crab blogs about anything more emotionally wrenching than finding her favorite machine at the gym occupied when she'd like to use it. Other bloggers out there, however, blog bravely about their emotional journeys and it's always powerful stuff.

Recently, for example, Charlotte at the Great Fitness Experiment wrote about confronting her dark, aggressive side during karate class. And POD talked with frankness and humor about some of her rock-bottom moments in the course of losing weight.

Also contemplative, but a bit lighter... a rumination on "U.M." at Training for a Half. What's, "U.M" you may ask? Well, it's kinda like transcendental meditation, but, well, kinda not!

And the always inspirational MizFit had a great suggestion this week about being open to the "so not me" experience!

Next, a tiny bit of research...

Three-Minute Workouts?

First up, a recent high intensity interval study finds that even as little as three minutes of huffing and puffing a few times a week can actually do some good! Sixteen young sedentary males did 30-second bouts of high intensity exercise, repeated 4-6 times, with recovery breaks in between. In two weeks of training, they significantly increased their bodies' ability to control blood sugar levels and reduced their risk of a bunch of future health problems. Researchers aren't saying 3 minutes is all you need to do for optimal health, but if you crank it up, you can do a LOT in a short period of time.

Don't Blow Your Nose When You Have a Cold?

A New York Times article claims that blowing your nose makes cold symptoms worse, not better. Apparently it reverses the flow of mucus into the sinuses and slows the drainage.

Sorry: ain't happening! If I have a stuffed nose, whether from a cold (which is impossible, because I don't get colds) or an allergy, I'm sure as hell gonna blow it! However, the article did say it was OK to blow one nostril at a time or take decongestants. Well thank you, scientists!

Afternoon Slump?

Mark's Daily Apple has some great tips and reminders about how to beat a mid-afternoon slump. (But does anyone else find that even if they were perfectly perky before reading about a mid-afternoon slump, the mere mention of slumpiness will make you sleepy? Yawwwwwnnn... Very sneaky, Mark!)

Also, Mark's site alerted my to this product advertisement spotted by Andrew from Go Healthy Go Fit.

I don't know why, but I just LOVE this photo! I'd be totally happy to give credit to the company whose product this is... but when I tried googling "neck harness" to find the source, the results just got WAY too weird!

And now some VIDEOS!

I don't know if the rifle-toting women pictured above, plus Charlotte's aggression post, plus this next video are adding up to a theme of sorts... but if so: welcome to Random Friday, the Women Happily Kicking Ass edition.

This vintage jujitsu demonstration brought to you via Boing Boing.

Next up, this video (which contains some amazing footage on the theme of "feeling lucky?") was stolen from the always amusing Half Fast.

And our last video is for those of you who really wish you could afford a Romantic Cruise but just can't quite swing it in these tough economic times. You may be feeling pretty lucky yourself that you're not on a cruise by the end.

Speaking of Romantic Plans (or not), anyone doing anything fun for Valentines Day? Or hate the holiday on principle? Either way, have a great weekend!

"Valentine from the Dog" by nataliedee

February 12, 2009

Carb is a four-letter word

I'm annoyed.

(I used to be Merry, but that has changed.)

I've been dutifully reading the scientific literature, trying to skim the healthiest cream off of the milk of human research. There are a lot of studies out there talking about the virtues and vices of a "low-carb" diet.

I thought this study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center was great news when I first read it: Low-carb burns more excess liver fat than low-calorie diet. I mean, not having excess liver fat is a very good thing. Forget vodka, you can get cirrhosis just by being overweight. But what do they mean by low-carb?
Should I give up pasta?

But wait, there's more!

Another study claims that a low-carb diet can affect the dieter's cognition skills. Turns out in this study the research subjects could either adopt a "a low-carb diet or a macronutrient balanced diet recommended by the American Dietetic Association." So does that imply the low-carb diet was not macronutrient balanced? I imagine it would get more so as the study progressed, if the subjects had problems with their cognition skills.
Should I give up carrots? They're carbs!

But weight, there's less!

A third study contends that "a very low-carb diet" is the best way for men to lose weight and keep it off.

And this professor from the University of Virginia says "Pshaw!" (Yeah, I'm paraphrasing.) According to him, "... for long-term weight maintenance, a high-carb, low-fat diet is still the best bet."

Okay, they're just doing this to drive me crazy, right? It must be a plot.

What are carbs exactly?

Bear with me here. To explain why I'm confused, I need to review the story so far.

I understand the basics thusly: your body gets nutrients from protein, fat, and carbohydrates. There are two basic types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.

So far so good. Then the plot thickens. Carbs can also be unrefined or refined. To me, being refined means drinking your tea with your pinkie sticking out, but to a carbohydrist (yes, I know it's not a real word, but it sounds good), refined means processed. The fiber has been stripped out, which also means the loss of any vitamins or minerals that were there.

This much, I could grasp. Then they threw in the Glycemic Index. Now I have to start worrying about how the carb is going to affect my blood sugar level.

When they introduced the GI concept, I started to get fed up with carbs and all their issues. And then the nutritionists unleashed the concept of Glycemic Load, and I wanted to scream.

Luckily, the Merck website has a pretty good definition of Glycemic Load: "A food, such as carrots, bananas, watermelon, or whole-wheat bread, may have a high glycemic index but contain relatively little carbohydrate and thus have a low glycemic load. Such foods have little effect on the blood sugar level."

Okay, I guess I can accept that. So long as they stop right there, thankyouverymuch. Enough classifications of these damn carbs.

Einstein, Solomon, and Angelina Jolie?

So what was the point of all that? Where does that leave us?

Where that leaves me is confused. When you read a study that claims a "low-carb" diet gives you the IQ of Einstein, the figure of Angelina Jolie, and the wisdom of Solomon, what kind of carb are they talking about?

Carrots are carbs, apples are carbs, lettuce, kale, daikon radishes... all carbs! Am I supposed to give them up?

All these different classifications of carbohydrates -- they're not all absorbed into the digestive system at the same rate, they're treated differently if you have a fatty liver or if you are of the male persuasion -- so why are they all lumped together in the scientific literature?

Does this confuse anyone else? Or should I go have a pizza in the hope that it will improve my cognitive skills?

February 11, 2009

Nature's Drug Store

Wait, where's the hair mousse and the dental floss?
You call this a drug store?

I know just did a post on how berries may fight cancer, but I seem to have collected a couple more studies with the same theme: sometimes the food we eat can help fight diseases we'd rather not get, or help us with other tiresome medical conditions.

And in addition to the most recent studies, the Google reminded me of some similar research that I'd seen lurking around the web but never got around to mentioning. So what the heck; I'll throw that in here too.

One annoying fact that totally messes with this post's "theme": often these studies used extracts and pills rather than actual food. But, at least what they stuffed into the pills was at one time real food.

So here's a quick quiz: can you match the food item with the particular health study that Crabby randomly landed on when she went to write this post?

Green Tea
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Tart Cherries
Fish Oil (Omega-3)

Health Concern:
Hot Flashes and Menopausal Depression
Multiple Sclerosis
Inflammation leading to Heart Disease and Diabetes
Breast Cancer
Excess Fat

Pencils down? OK, let's see what we got:

Menopausal Depression and Hot Flashes:

Sounds like fun, I can't wait!

And the winner is: Omega-3!

A study of Omega-3 and menopausal symptoms recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicated that Omega-3 helped ease "psychological distress and depressive symptoms." The women were given one gram of EPA in a gel capsule every day for eight weeks. The study also found that hot flashes dropped from 2.8 a day to 1.6; comparable to results obtained with hormone therapy and antidepressants.

Increased Fat-Burning (plus glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity):

This recent study involved green tea, combined with exercise. Scientists found that young healthy men who were given the equivalent of 3.5 cups of tea (well, yeah, again it was actually Green Tea Extract), and then did cycling trials, had higher average fat oxidation rates than the control group who didn't get the green tea extract. Their "fat oxidation to total energy expenditure" was also significantly higher, which sounds like a good thing.
The researchers said "this has potentially positive effects for athletes who want to increase their fat burning capacity or obese and diabetic patients who want to burn fat and lose weight.”

They also found that the green tea had a helpful effect on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Good stuff, that green tea!

Multiple Sclerosis:

Caffeine seems to help ward off multiple sclerosis--at least in animal studies. Mice given caffeine were 75 percent less likely to develop the animal model of MS than those not given it. The dosage was the equivalent of 6 to 8 cups of coffee a day for humans. In the animals given caffeine who did get MS, they had milder cases and less brain pathology.

Inflammation Leading to Heart Disease and Diabetes:

Tart cherries were shown to help reduce inflammation, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. And again, these were just animal studies, so who knows. The antioxidant anthocyanin was believed to be the reason for the cherries' anti-inflammatory powers.

Breast Cancer:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil may help to fight breast cancer! How? Well, beats me, as this was one of the most indecipherable summaries of a research study I've ever read. But for those of you who can translate this, it is apparently good news!

"The study has shown the anti-HER2 effect of fractions of phenolic compounds directly extracted from extra virgin olive oil in breast cancer cell lines. They have used solid-phase extraction methods of semi-preparative liquid chromatography to isolate fractions of commercial oils and, later, separation techniques (capillary electrophoresis and liquid chromatography connected to mass spectrometry) to check the purity and composition of the fractions."

That's nifty, I guess! As someone who likes Extra Virgin Olive Oil but doesn't much like breast cancer, I'm pleased the scientists think it's good news.


Cinnamon helps! Um, unless it doesn't.

So this one is kinda cheating. Several years ago there were some hopeful studies that said cinnamon could help diabetics with glucose levels, but since then, other studies have said: meh, maybe not so much. WebMD reviewed the cinnamon studies and was not impressed.

However, my own mother just reported that she significantly reduced her blood sugar levels by taking cinnamon capsules! She went from borderline pre-diabetic to a nice healthy number. (Her motivation? To stop getting those annoying pamphlets from the doctor telling her to do all the healthy lifestyle stuff she's already been doing for years).

So who are you gonna believe, some smarty-pants researchers with their statistics and fancy laboratories and control groups and whatnot? Or your own mother? If my levels ever creep up, I may give the cinnamon capsules a try. (I suppose yummy frosted cinnamon rolls might be counterproductive for preventing diabetes?)

Sorry, this is kind of a boring post. Anyone have any favorite natural remedies, nutritional research updates, or amusing old wives tales to pass on?

February 10, 2009

Vado HD pocket camera giveaway! (US/Can)

When I was asked to review the Vado HD pocket video camera, my first thought was -- why? Cranky Fitness is a health, fitness & whining blog. Aren't home video cameras used for supplying YouTube with a surfeit of silly cat videos? How does that fit in with h., f., or w.? And why would I want to give a video camera away to a Cranky Fitness reader?

Try it, they said. See what you think.

So I did, and I have to say...

February 09, 2009

Fear of Functional Fitness

No, Please No! Anything but That!
Photo credit: kevindooley

In a recent post I poked a bit of fun at the whole notion of "Functional Fitness." But you know how in second grade, little boys often go out our their way to tease and taunt the little girls they find intriguing? And that's because they have confused, conflicting feelings and they're too immature to deal with it?

Well, that's pretty much the story with Crabby McSlacker and Functional Fitness.

Yes, it's true. I'm perhaps flirting with the notion of adding a bit of functional fitness to my workout. Because while I Hate Change, I do know variety is good, and it's counterproductive to keep doing the same things all the time, blah blah blah. However, if I do decide to get more Functional, you can be assured it will be gradually and grudgingly.

And believe me, I still have have some doubts and questions. Can anybody help?

First Off, A Review: What is Functional Fitness Again?

For those of you who don't want to click back to the last functional fitness post, I'll just repeat what they said at WebMD: the idea is "building a body capable of doing real-life activities in real-life positions, not just lifting a certain amount of weight in an idealized posture created by a gym machine." And you're generally supposed to use compound movements rather than working individual muscles.

Since I'm the last health blogger on the planet to think about getting more Functional, you probably are all way ahead of me on this anyway. But, for a little more info, here's an msnbc article on functional fitness. You can also just google and get about a trillion hits.

Why Am I Finally Considering Functional Fitness After Stubbornly Ignoring This Trend for Years?

1. It's getting more and more mainstream and I keep reading about it one everyone else's blog and I feel left out.

2. I'm getting really, really, bored with my current workout.

3. Annoying Old People keep hogging my usual gym machines and I need alternative ways to exercise the same muscles. (When winter's over and it's time to move back to Provincetown MA, I won't have to contend with Annoying Old People anymore! Instead I'll be fighting with Annoying Circuit Queens).

4. Functional Fitness seems to involve toys, like jump-ropes, balls, bells, cones, and inflatable things. This sounds like a nice change from massive pieces of gym equipment and allows for a more portable workout.

5. Theoretically, I will be less likely to injure myself doing ordinary activities. As someone who once severely aggravated a back injury by bending down to tie my shoes, this might be a smart idea.

6.People who do lots of functional fitness exercises seem pretty kick-ass.

7. And speaking of kick-ass feats of functional fitness, did you guys catch that Whobody passed her SWAT test? Here are some of the requirements: "a mile and a half run in 12:18 or under.... Sprint 100 yards and drag a 160lb dummy with a weighted vest on in 28 seconds..." Editorial note: Accck!

8. Because cardio and strength training often happen at the same time, you can get more done in a shorter workout.

9. The final inducement? A friend of the Lobster is a personal trainer whom we visited when we were in San Diego. He knows his stuff, and he's all about functional fitness. He was very persuasive! This also means that the Lobster is interested in functional fitness now, and the Crab has a workout partner to play with. Said personal trainer gave us a starter workout to try.

Why Am I Still So Reluctant?

Here are some of my hesitations and concerns:

1. It's Not Obvious What You Should Do:

With traditional strength training, once you've gone through an orientation at the gym on the machines, you're pretty much set for the rest of your life. You move the pin to higher weights when you get stronger; you move the pins back down when you've been slacking. As to cardio? Put on your shoes and head out the door for a run! Or climb on a machine and start pedaling/pumping/trudging.

But "Functional Fitness" is all about mixing things up; there are endless variations of things you can do. Oddly enough, if you can't afford a personal trainer, all these options may flee from your tiny brain when it's just you and the cones and the kettlebells or whatever.

Alternatively, you can do Crossfit or Monkey Bar Gym or some other organized Functional Fitness Workout delivery system. This is great for people who don't have authority issues and who are enthusiastic, flexible, non-complainers. Um, do I need to point out that I am not one of those people? I don't like someone else telling me what to do if I don't feel like doing it. But I'm afraid I'm too lazy to research and design my own workout. Once we get bored with our "starter workout," will I be motivated enough to move forward on my own?

2. It's Also Harder to Figure Out How to Do It Right

This is another reason so many functional fitness folks seem to start with classes or personal trainers. Form is important; plus the equipment is not as adjustable as a machine in terms of targeting your particular body. You have to make adjustments for your size and strength by doing different versions of the exercises, or by doing a lot more or a lot less.

3. Functional fitness is supposed to make your muscles stronger, not bigger.

I keep reading this "reassuring" information as though I'm supposed to be happy about it. Functional strength training is NOT body building!

Just one problem: unlike most women, and many men, I want bigger muscles! Call me weird, but I like a "buffed" look, whether on men or women. I'm in no danger of ever, ever, approaching that exaggerated body-building-champ non-human look. But I worry that if I substitute running around flinging kettlebells and using my body's momentum, rather than slowly and miserably hefting conventional weights, I'll lose what little definition I've managed to gain.

Also, frankly, I'm strong enough for my regular life doing the old-fashioned kind of weight training. I can carry groceries in from the car and put my luggage in the overhead bin. If I need to move a large piece of furniture up and down many flights of stairs? I'm gonna hire a freakin' moving company!

4. The "Toys" are more expensive than you'd think! We went to a sporting good store and found out what ONE GODDAMN KETTLEBELL cost. We're seriously looking at the big plastic 14lb container of Kitty Litter with the handy handle and thinking... hmmmm...

But I'm Still Kinda Psyched to Try Something Different

I'm under no illusions that I'll totally embrace this functional fitness thing and abandon my traditional routine entirely. However, I'm willing to try swapping out one or two of my old workouts a week.

Because even I'm getting tired of hearing myself whine about the dreaded gym. It's definitely time to freshen things up a bit.

So the Lobster and I have tried a few functional workouts. There seems to be more of an inertia problem than when we stick to the tried and true: we keep finding excuses to pick a different day to do our Functional Fitness workout. But then when we do actually get out there and do it--it's, um, kinda fun!

Anyone else contemplating a change in your routine? Or got any advice on getting more "functional?"