By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
If you have been working hard to lose weight, and it hasn’t happened, what should you do next? If you have back and neck pain, do you just pop a painkiller in your mouth? If your parent has Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s like my mom, is that a death sentence to expect when you get old? If you often feel tired after exercising, what’s wrong?
Attending fitness lectures and researching on these topics are my hobbies. Friends often praise me for being fit. My biggest success has been my husband—I have inspired him to exercise every morning since 2018. He feels so much better now physically and mentally.
You can make exercising fun. For instance, if you work out to music, it lightens you up instantly. I change my dance music once in a while. One day, I listen to disco music and on another day, I listen to The Beatles. You don’t even feel as if you are working out when you hike or bike together with friends. You can bond with others through activities, and you can encourage one another to exercise more. Or choose a beautiful place to work out, such as the beach, mountains, and forests. I walk in a different park every week. It lifts up my spirit and motivates me to get to know more about the city. I have been fascinated by old trees rising above towards the sky, and the sound of creeks and streams in our parks.
Each day, I incorporate five principles in my workouts, many of them I learned from Nate Coomer, a physical therapist and an expert on workouts for patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Consistency heals. My neck was so sore last year due to sitting at the wrong height while practicing the piano. My family doctor asked if I wanted a pill. I said no, then I asked him to refer me to a physical therapist.
In two sessions and months of neck exercises, my neck pain was gone. Boy, did they make me work. For each type of exercise, I had to do it six times a day. I never had time. At most, I did it four times a day. Two years ago, I had lower back pain. Those exercises the therapists taught me worked like magic. My neck and lower back pain disappeared a long time ago. I still practice those exercises in the morning.
It’s better to exercise every day for 10 to 15 minutes than to do it for an hour once a week.
You say, “I am too busy. Sometimes, I work out more than once a week.” The word “sometimes” sounds like you don’t want to commit.
Movement is crucial to maintaining a healthy body. If I don’t exercise for even one day, I feel as if my day is incomplete. That spirit makes me feel that working out is not a chore, but a privilege. Just think of people with physical limitations, who are dying to have the ability to exercise, but cannot. For us who have arms and legs to move around, we are blessed.
Exercise provides us with the daily fuel to boost our energy and immune system. Why not do it!?
Make exercise a priority in your day. Start in the morning so you won’t have any excuses that you don’t have time to do it later in the day.
I exercise even before I eat breakfast. One friend said, he needs to eat something before he works out. Try honey and lemon water or some juice.
After brushing my teeth and drinking a glass of hot water, off I go to dance.
I stick to a seven-day exercise program even when I travel. If I have to catch a plane in the morning, I will exercise first and then have breakfast during the flight.
If you are overweight, you have to get on the seven-day program so you can really lose weight. You can start once a week and gradually to three, four, five times, and eventually seven days a week.
4. Workout with intensity
When you exercise intensely, you sweat. If you don’t sweat after working out, it means your program lacks intensity. After I dance for about 25 minutes, I jog five to eight minutes until I sweat. The jogging part speeds up my heart rate. I feel my internal organs mobilizing.
Sweating is vital to our wellbeing. It detoxes our body by flushing out undesirable substances, including alcohol and cholesterol. It rejuvenates our skin, too. Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to sweat no matter how hard I exercise. A physical therapist advised me to wear a thick coat during exercise. After wearing a coat for two weeks, I started to sweat a little. Now, I sweat when I exercise. I don’t know if it’s because of the warmer weather or my body has improved. Probably a little bit of both.
For people who don’t sweat easily, don’t exercise in an air-conditioned room. Switch off your fan so you can sweat more, especially during the summer. You can lose weight quickly when you sweat. Don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated by drinking lots of water when you work out.
3. How powerful is your workout?
Most people work out without thinking about the intensity of their steps or strength. What impact are you going to produce after each kick, swing, or punch? If you walk, think about how much energy you are consuming. If it’s too light or your steps too short, it has no effect on your body. When you run, do you have to catch your breath?
When I kick, I kick with all my might as if I can break a rock. When I breathe, I take long and deep breaths to fill my lungs with lots of oxygen and to exercise my lungs as well.
It’s nice to have a treadmill which challenges you with inclines, you burn more calories that way.
2. Variations in speed
One New York Times article suggested that when we bike or jog, we need to have variations in speed to achieve maximum benefit. That means you jog fast for a mile, then slow down for a few minutes, then speed up again.
Some people like to use an app to make sure they follow a good program. I used to have a pedometer. Not anymore. I know what I am doing, and what I am capable of doing. It’s more flexible not having an app to dictate what I like to do daily.
1. Challenge your brain
My friend’s relative believes that he will have both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s later in life because both his parents did.
I probably have the defective gene, too, since my grandmother and mother have Alzheimer’s. Even though there’s a possibility, it doesn’t bother me. Why?
A study about a group of nuns living in a convent yielded some interesting results. In the autopsy report, some nuns’ brains were infested with Alzheimer’s amyloid plaques. Yet, they didn’t show any symptoms of Alzheimer’s during their lifetime.
Dr. Eric Larsen of the University of Washington, who wrote the book “Enlightened Aging,” explained that it has to do with resilience. What kind of person you are and how active your life is, are more important factors for not getting dementia, according to several neuro-scientists. Environmental factors beat out genetics.
In exercising, how do you challenge the brain? Playing tennis and any other kind of team sport will challenge your brain more than solo exercising.
Every time your brain encounters something new and different, it sends signals to other parts of the brain to connect together. It’s called neuroplasticity. New brain cells will grow no matter how old you are. And if you like to swim, continue swimming. However, you should swim different styles in one workout, do back strokes, turtle style, and dog paddle. Or you can race with friends. Or teach little kids to swim.
This blog is dedicated to a few good friends, who are overweight. When I told a childhood friend she needed to shed 20 pounds, she didn’t take it well. Sometimes, honesty backfires even with good intentions. She said I was being mean, and I apologized. But I will send her this blog no matter how much she hates me. I hope that one day, she realizes that she needs to love herself to take care of herself.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.