Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rev Up Your Workout for Weight Loss

Have you tried interval training?

Interval training sounds like something for elite athletes. And it is. But it’s also for us regular folks who just want to exercise for our health.

Like other forms of exercise, interval training helps with strengthening the heart, toning muscles and losing weight. But it does it with shorter workouts and quicker results.

The reason I share this is not because I’m an expert, but because at this stage of my life this is working for me. I’m gaining muscle, getting stronger, dropping stubborn pounds.

I began interval training in mid-July, when I finally got rid of two plantars warts that had been crippling me since March. Even bicycle riding hurt.

Approaches to interval training vary, but basically it goes like this: warm-up, fast walking interspersed with bursts of really fast walking, repeat 10 to 15 times, cool down. One article may say to a 20-minute workout, another may say 30 or more minutes.

I generally do 30 minutes, but the really cool thing is if you’re pressed for time, you can get a good, hard workout in 20 minutes. That’s the minimum.

Another variable is the length of the intervals. For instance, you can do a 15-second burst or a two-minute burst, or any length of time you choose.

My workout goes like this: moderately fast walk (breathing somewhat hard, but can still talk in full sentences) for one minute, then a burst of fast walking for 30 seconds. The fast walking is a full-out effort; I can only manage maybe yes or no responses.

The difference between the 20 and 30 minute workouts is the warm-up and cool-down. On busy days, those times are only two minutes instead of five. I may have 11-12 intervals instead of 13-14. So the core of the workout is still there.

Another benefit of interval training is injury prevention. In the past, I’ve done long workouts, both running and walking, and have suffered repeated cases of plantar fasciitis. Cross-training (read on) also helps prevent overuse injuries.

The beauty of the 20-minute option is on weekday mornings when I’m getting out of the house to work, I can still get in a good, hard workout. Twenty minutes may become the norm during the winter when the sun delays its rising.

The downside is that the interval walks are not meditative. I’m timing my intervals and concentrating on the effort, not mentally twirling with the cedar trees in their dance along the fence lines. I don’t pray or work out problems. However, there are other days for this.

You can get away from clocking intervals by doing fartlek, which is Swedish for “speed play.” This is where you do it by how you feel. You walk or run moderately, then do a burst until you feel winded, then do moderate until you feel rested enough for another burst. Or you can measure it by telephone poles or mailboxes or street corners. I do this sometimes for variety.

So I do the interval workouts on Monday-Wednesday-Friday. On Tuesday I take a six-mile bicycle ride that takes about 30 minutes. On Saturday I take a long bicycle ride. It would be longer by now if the roads where I live weren’t so hilly. The hills make it an interval workout. I’m up to about 13 miles now, with a goal of doing 20 miles or more.

Then on Sunday I take a long walk at a moderately fast pace for more than an hour. I’m pushing this out each week with a goal of doing two hours. Sometimes — ideally — this is a hike in the mountains.

Of course, all these workouts are flexible. If someone wants to hike on Saturday, I’m there.

My weight loss results have been tangible. Usually, by dieting alone, I lose about a pound every two to three weeks. Since interval training, I’ve lost an average of a pound a week.

However — and this is a big qualifier — I’ve also changed my diet radically. In June, I began eating a mostly-vegetarian diet. I eat no meat, chicken and/or fish about five days a week. And the meat I do eat is in much smaller portions than in the past, about the size of a deck of cards.

So is it the interval training or the mostly-vegetarian diet that’s effecting the weight loss? Or is it both? I don’t know, but I’m not willing to stop either to find out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What's the Right Path?

Church history. There’s church history and then there’s your church history and my church history.

You’d think, with all the churches I’ve been involved with throughout my adult life, that this would have happened by now. But never before have I been involved in a church split.

I began attending this church six years ago. I knew then that this was a crazy time to become involved with a mainline denomination. They’ve all been embroiled in conflict for years over the validity of their biblical roots and the identity of Jesus Christ. So, why would I start going to such a church now?

It was the next step in the circle of my journey. All my favorite writers are of this faith tradition, and the way they write about faith is quite attractive to me. The liturgy, the historical roots, the central place of Communion in worship … it all beckoned to me.

How many churches have I attended over the years? I don’t know. My reasons for leaving are varied. Several times because I simply moved to another state or town. Twice because of dysfunctional leadership. Another time to find a better children’s ministry for our kids. And sometimes, it’s just time to move on.

It’s not that I like moving around, switching allegiances, breaking relationships. As I’ve gotten older, relationships have become the most important reason for remaining in a church. That is the deciding factor for me now. For instance, one church I attended had some disturbing things going on, but I stayed because of friendships and loyalties. Then my friends began leaving. One day I looked around and saw hardly anyone I really knew.

“Why am I here?” I asked myself. “Out of loyalty to this building?”

In some realms of life, I am willing to be classified: I am a writer, mother, wife, sister, runner, student, home-maker, friend, employee. But I have never taken on a religious label. I am not Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Charismatic, Mennonite. Perhaps this is my lack. I do not say this is right for everyone.

I don’t join churches anymore. I have not seen that joining a church makes anyone more loyal to it or causes them to stay any longer. I’m opposed to taking vows I don’t plan to abide by. Plus, I’m just uncomfortable with institutions of any type. Perhaps that’s just because I’ve never found any worth pledging to.

“The greatest evil is found where the greatest good has been corrupted,” wrote Thomas Merton.

T.S. Eliot said it this way:
Sin grows with doing good …
Servant of God has chance of greater sin
And sorrow, than the man who serves a king.
For those who serve the greater
cause may make the cause serve them,
Still doing right.

The church is the people, not the institution. I was attracted to my church’s traditions, but it was the authenticity of the people and the possibility of real, caring relationships that caused me to stay. I was tired of church politics. This church, I felt, was a place I could learn to trust again, make friends, plug in, serve, find community and contentment. And it was, very much so, until a year ago. I call it the exodus, when half my friends left.

“I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I would have the guts to betray my country” (from “Two Cheers for Democracy” by E.M. Forster).

My problem is that I’m not principled enough to take either side. The institutions don’t matter to me and I cannot make decisions for or against groups of friends. I resent being put in this position. I do not resent any single person but this thing, this … what do I call it? What do I call it? Perhaps if I could name it, there would be something to take sides against.

What would you call it? Have you ever been involved in a church split? Do you still think you did the right thing? How did it all turn out?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.