In summer…

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Image by **Mary**

It’s day one of summer.

And it’s day one of my commitment to seize the season and make the most of the warm weather and longer days.

Work less. Play more.

Make a list of adventures that you can only take on in summer.

Read in a hammock. Walk barefoot in the grass. Go jump in the lake.

Go places. Do things. Daydream.

Eat real food. Cook it over real fire. Have real, face-to-face conversations with people you love.

Embrace your primal nature and your connection to the natural world and to your senses.

Life is more radiant and more visceral in summer. Don’t sit it out as you tune out in your artificial escapes.

Make contact with your life right here, right now. In summer.

“‘Cause a little bit of summer’s what the whole year’s all about.” –John Mayer, Wildfire

Walking man

Imagine being offered a pill that promised you seven extra years of life if you took it daily. There are no negative side effects. And it’s completely free. 

The only catch is that it takes 25 minutes each day to take this pill.

A daily 25-minute walk could add seven years to your life.

That’s the headline that got me out the door with my dog after dinner tonight. The summer heat has been my excuse for being less consistent about my daily walk. 

But even on a warm evening, I come back from a walk feeling better physically and emotionally. 

We are walking animals. It’s what we are wired to do. Our ability to stand upright and walk and run was key to becoming who we are.

But our modern culture is making us into sitting animals. Our prosperity and comfort, relative to almost all of our ancestors, is also making us weaker in many ways. 

I’m using modern technology, though, to motivate me to get off my butt more often. I use the Pedometer++ app to track my steps, and I aim for the green confetti that erupts on my phone screen when I cross the 10,000 step threshold each day. It’s silly that this motivates me, but it’s effective.

Our lives could be so much better engineered for walking. If we lived in walking distance of our work and shopping and leisure we would naturally be so much more active.

Urban life offers this advantage. I walked so much more when I lived in Washington, D.C. There was too much friction involved in driving.

If you can’t place yourself in a more walkable place, you can at least build walking into your daily habits.

Take your dog, your friend, your kids, your spouse. Or load up a podcast to listen to or some favorite music or just enjoy a quiet stroll. 

But if you walked a little more than a mile each day, you would not only add years to your life, you might add more life to your years.

The omnivore omelet: Vegetarian chickens and bad eggs

In the egg section of the grocery store you’ll see egg cartons prominently touting that the chickens laying those eggs had “100 percent vegetarian feed”. That should actually be nothing to crow about. (I had to.)

From The Washington Post:

Chickens on an unsupplemented vegetarian diet typically fall short of an essential protein-based amino acid known as methionine, and without it, they fall ill. Worse, the birds will also turn on each other, pecking at each other in search of nutrients, and these incidents can escalate into a henhouse bloodbath, farmers say.

“They’re really like little raptors – they want meat,” said Blake Alexandre, the owner of a 30,000 chicken operation in far northern California that keeps its birds on pasture. “The idea that they ought to be vegetarians is ridiculous.”

Nature should be our default. It’s in the nature of a chicken, thanks to millions of years of evolution, to roam and forage for food and to be an omnivore, to eat bugs and other small critters. When we take a chicken out of nature and force our notion of a healthy chicken diet on it, it seems obvious that things can go awry, for the chicken and for those eating its eggs.

I eat eggs almost every morning —scrambled, usually, occasionally fried or in omelets and sometimes, when I’m feeling fancy, in a fritata. And then there are deviled eggs which, in my opinion, rue their name and are one of the more heavenly food treats. (Use this delicious and nutritious avacado oil mayo, though, instead of the lousy industrial-oil-laden conventional mayo.)

Eggs are tasty and filling and are potentially a potent source of wholesome nutrition.

It turns out, though, that eggs from chickens that are pastured are a lot better for you as well as offering a better life for the chickens.

Pastured eggs certainly cost more than the factory farmed conventional standard. But I don’t mind paying $6 for a dozen instead of a dollar. At 50 cents per egg, that doesn’t seem unreasonable for a healthier meal for me and a better life for the chicken.

A book that goes the distance: Born To Run

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I have a stack (a virtual stack, that is) of unread books that I am genuinely interested in reading. I often go through long periods of dipping in and out of different books, making little progress on any one book. My potentially unlimited access to almost any book I want at any time is a bit overwhelming and regularly keeps me from actually reading a book all the way through.

However, Born To Run pulled me in and kept me intrigued all the way to the end and beyond. When I opened my iBooks app in the past week, I didn’t hesitate to open Born To Run, and only Born To Run. I didn’t stray or skim through another title in indecision. All Born To Run, all the time. It was a delight to read, and it was a delight to find a book that had the magnetism to hold my attention and push all other reading material behind it.

The author, Christopher McDougall, did a masterful job of weaving together a fascinating group of characters (real people that I found intriguing enough to google and explore further) into a narrative that was truly compelling. And I’m not even a runner.

But this book has sparked a new appreciation of distance runners and a curiosity about the science and engineering and anthropology behind truly great running form. I even, in preparation for an upcoming trip, bought a pair of the Luna Sandals whose design was inspired by the story in this book. And I have definitely never been a sandals guy. At all. (Though, the similarity of these particular sandals to what I think gladiator/Roman emperor sandals would have looked like makes them a bit easier to accept.)

A book that entertains with a page-turner of a story that also educates and challenges assumptions and has you trying a new approach to your basic daily habits (and buying sandals, of all things)… A fine accomplishment for an author.

I see that McDougall has a new book coming out this month with a similar vibe: Natural Born Heroes. Pre-ordered.

 

Born To Run: Christopher McDougall’s TED Talk

I am reading Christopher McDougall’s book, Born To Run, and it is fascinating. So much so that I’ve been Googling characters from the story and found the author’s web site and got lost in videos on his site today.

Again, I’m no runner, but the story McDougall tells is intriguing. It’s beyond just an exposition of running fundamentals. It gets to the heart of our potential as a species, physically and socially. What we were. What we’ve lost. And what still resides within and can be reawakened by getting in sync with our primal nature.

And the book is simply a good story, well told. And it will make you want to ditch your overly cushioned athletic shoes.

Here’s the book’s author giving a short talk about the key themes in his book:

Eight weeks left in 2014: Walk on

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I’ve been counting down the weeks left in the year, and we are at the eight week mark today.

I’ve been consistent with the hundred pushups challenge, but not so much with my reading habits. Get on that, man. Wake up earlier. Stop getting lost in internet mazes. What if I read eight more books before New Year’s Day? Compiling my list tonight.

I’m adding a new habit this week: walk a mile every day. It’s an easy, quick distance to cover. The dog needs the exercise and the attention, and I need to get moving more often.

Walking is a simple, primal activity that is good for body and mind. Mark Sisson published a post recently detailing the prolific walking habits of some great thinkers – Aristotle, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Dickens, and Beethoven among others.

Sisson quotes this from Soren Kierkegaard:

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.

The author of my favorite book, Brenda Ueland, wrote about the therapeutic benefits of leisurely, meandering walks. She went on a solitary, five to six mile walk every day to tend to her creative spirit. Harry Truman was famous for his daily, brisk walks and lived a long and interesting life.

Few things refresh and recharge like a walk. And sitting for a living as most of us do necessitates some intentional movement for a healthier life. Setting a goal of just one mile each day, which takes twenty minutes or less, makes this so doable. I could do this at lunch or early in the morning or include the whole family in the evening. I’m using the Runkeeper app to track my distance traveled.

I want to be stronger and healthier and building my day around healthy routines and productive habits will make a bigger impact than setting random goals.

Wake up knowing you’ve got to get your mile in each day. Walk on.

Low-carb > low-fat

Big news in health this week. A major new study has shown that eating a low-carb diet is healthier than eating a low-fat diet.

From the New York Times story about the study:

By the end of the yearlong trial, people in the low-carbohydrate group had lost about eight pounds more on average than those in the low-fat group. They had significantly greater reductions in body fat than the low-fat group, and improvements in lean muscle mass — even though neither group changed their levels of physical activity.

While the low-fat group did lose weight, they appeared to lose more muscle than fat.

And this:

In the end, people in the low-carbohydrate group saw markers of inflammation and triglycerides — a type of fat that circulates in the blood — plunge. Their HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, rose more sharply than it did for people in the low-fat group.

Blood pressure, total cholesterol and LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, stayed about the same for people in each group.

Nonetheless, those on the low-carbohydrate diet ultimately did so well that they managed to lower their Framingham risk scores, which calculate the likelihood of a heart attack within the next 10 years. The low-fat group on average had no improvement in their scores.

This story, that a low-fat diet is less beneficial than previously assumed, has been brewing quietly for the past decade. I switched to a mostly low-carb, high-fat diet in 2009 and very quickly lost 20 pounds without any exercise routine. And my blood work has been excellent since then.

Conventional wisdom is hard to turn around, but it finally seems it could happen on this topic. So many people have followed bad advice since the low-fat guidelines became a sort of dogma in the 1970’s. And obesity has only skyrocketed since then. At least, maybe we can now begin to take a fresh approach to what it means to eat a healthy diet.