May 1, 2009

physician, exercise thyself

The hospital PR people talked the editors of Southern Oregon Magazine to do a piece on physicians that exercise. I fear saying less than wise things outloud, so I typed the following in answer to her questions in hopes that she can use any of it in her story to motivate others to exercise more:

I have some patients that absolutely can't exercise due to conditions such as paralysis, or debilitating arthritis. Most of them do fine. But for anyone that can, I feel strongly that exercise is a very beneficial part of life.

The body is amazing because the more you do now (up to a point,) the more you will be able to do latter, and the healthier it will be.

Investing time and effort into exercising yields a longer, and probably more importantly a higher quality life.

Exercise decreases the risk of a wide range of conditions from heart attacks to low back pain. It is a necessary component of successful weight-loss programs, it helps pressure, sugar, and cholesterol. It decreases the risk of falls and osteoporotic fractures, and it improves depression. If my patients exercised more, I would have significantly less work to do.

I run. It's the fastest way for me to use large muscle groups and burn calories, requires less gear and skills-training than most sports, and is very portable. I've run during lay-overs in the neighborhoods near airports, along the Nile river in Cairo, and in circles on base when I was deployed to the Middle East. Treadmills can be expensive, but I use ours when I'm too lazy to put on the right clothes to go out in the weather or when I want to watch a movie on the VCR. But I really enjoy running on trails in the woods, especially with a group of training partners that are close friends. At first I ran to stay in shape for mountain climbing, but I rarely get the chance to do any of that. And I've had really good success winning races. After I got over the surprise of that, competing has been a very positive reinforcing motivator for me.

I first ran an ultramarathon (~anything longer than marathon) to try and help pace my friend Todd Ragsdale at the SOB 50k by Mt Ashland in 2004. We were in the lead but had someone (John Ticer) catch us. I stayed ahead, but Todd dropped back to 3rd. I've won 2 of the 4 marathons I've run, and 5 of the 9 50k's. I won the USATF masters (over 40) 50 mile trail championship in 2007 and the overall USAFT 100k trail championship this past year. My best at the Pear Blossom 10 mile has been 5th.

My training strategy is mainly to run every other day. Top flight runners usually run twice as much as I do, but this is what's working for me. I do some sit-ups, and push-ups, and if I had more time and easier access to weights I think I'd lift once or twice a week. On a busy day sometimes it is midnight before I get around to running, but I do it anyway. I try to go long (2 to 4 hours, up to 25 miles) a couple of Saturday mornings per month when I can. My other runs usually fit into one of 4 categories: "pace runs" where I go hard for about 4-6 miles; intervals where I go fast for 1/2 to 1 mile, rest, then repeat several times; runs with the high school crosscountry team doing whatever they are doing that day which sometimes involves short intervals; or "recovery" runs where I just go easy. When I'm by myself, my GPS watch or the readings on the treadmill motivate me to push myself. I use a heart rate monitor about a third of the time to check whether I'm pushing hard enough, but not so hard that I won't be capable of maintaining my pace.

I think people have better success if they incorporate exercise into their lifestyle- do it in the morning if they can, ride their bike to and from work like Dr. Davis, walk at lunch, stop at the gym on the way home, or whatever works for them. Include family members. But do it. Its one of those "important," but not "urgent" parts of life that get neglected unless you plan for it and stick with the plan. These are the things that discriminate between people that "react" to life and struggle to get by, and those who are "proactive" and in control of their destiny.

I incorporate much of my running into my family's life while being mindful that it is a balance. I've got 5 kids, and they run with me at times. They seem to enjoy doing the local road races with me, especially after winning some raffle drawings. They've won more than their share- gift certificates to Rogue Valley Runner, lessons at the Rogue Rock gym, and even a TV, which is ironic since TV's lead to less exercise. My middle son is always up for a run to the dollar store. My daughters realize I'm less irritable after a run, so they sometimes drag me out of the house with them. My youngest just rides in the stroller, but like most kids he really seems to like that. I've taken that stroller all sorts of places including the Lilly Glen trail on Johns Peak when it was all muddy. Before my kids got fast, I'd set the brake on the stroller to give me a good workout while going the pace my kids could maintain. If my youngest wasn't available, sometimes I'd put a bucket of laundry soap in the stroller and push it without him. It's been a great way to spend time with my kids. Quizzing one of my kids while she rode a bike or rollerbladed and I ran behind the stroller was the main way she learned her school spelling lists. A jogging stroller also makes it easier to carry stuff if I'm doing errands. I didn't have it Tuesday when my oldest son and I ran, and it really slowed me down to carry 2 gallons of milk home the mile from Ray's. I recommend "Bob" strollers since my brother-in-law designed the original for them as a college project. My dog loves to come with, but she starts to lag after a few miles. I've got a sad story about a time I tried to take her longer than she could manage. After that she rode in the stroller for a couple of weeks while her paws healed. Back when I was more organized, I'd further multitask by listening to continuing education tapes while running errands pushing the stroller with the kids. Once in awhile I'll have my wife drop me off a few miles from our destination when we're traveling so I can get my run in on those remaining miles. The time we were going to meet friends at Applegate Lake I ran slower than I thought I would on a long run on the back roads, but it worked out well when my friends picked me up on their way on upper Applegate road and drove me the last few miles. The other time I bit off more than I could chew running home from Ashland I called my wife for a ride home. She was busy with a project and declined to retrieve me. Another time I incorporated running with routine travel was when I got in a long run when my son rode his razor scooter from our home to the school on Juaniperro on the other side of Medford for a soccer game. I ran laps around the school while more-or-less watching his game, then we ran/scooted home again.

I don't expect normal people to do most of what I do, but I want them to take courage from seeing what can be done. Being busy with work/chores/church/scouts, bad weather, family, etc are things to manage, not valid excuses not to exercise. I started (my long runs) the same way everyone else does- I ran a bit, walked a bit, and repeated building up slowly over time. I trained my kids to expect physical activity as part of their lives. Fortunately, my wife has been very supportive of all this.

-Neil Olsen


Ken said...

You really have high-performance long-distance running on budget down pat. You should write a book titled "Winning After 40", or "How to Run and Still have a Life".

I see so many people that have trouble just getting around because of their weight, and think, "how could they let that happen?" And then I let 40 pounds sneak on to me and realize that climbing stairs left me out of breath.

It seems crazy that we have advanced so far that we actually need to make work for ourselves to keep healthy.

Eldon and Janeil Olsen said...

Very good article. I hope they print all of it.

Ken earned his 3rd gold star last night--15 pounds! I'm so proud of him. His jeans are looking baggy.

Ken's got a point. If we were farming the land and cutting down trees we wouldn't need an exercise program.

Anonymous said...

I really like it. Not only courage can be taken from your example but inspiration and desire.

On a side note, they say running is a mental sport, it's true, we're all insane. =) But it's worth it.

ps. They canceled the track meet at WOU due to the swine flu...

sheryl said...

Thanks for the article. I'll stay with my 3 mile hikes.

brenda said...

I didn't know the more you do now the more you can do later. So I should stop putting it off, is what you're saying. I've always figured I'd have more time eventually. But you also prove that to be a weak excuse. Very persuasive and motivating!

That probably gave you some satisfaction to write it up--it's what your posterity will remember about you. You're already a legend among your nieces and nephews.