Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Jogging Jubilation: Don't give up your 2012 resolution

     (2012) I jog through the decades of my life as I move from one radio station to another, and I know so many lyrics -- along with every lilt, moan, growl and scream -- that I wonder how my brain has room in it for anything else. I get a special thrill when I jog to music from my high school and college years, because I know I lacked the physical strength and endurance back then to do this for five minutes, and now -- at the age of 62 -- I hurtle through the air for 90 minutes every morning. If you give exercise a chance, it will truly change you and how you regard yourself. You will feel like the gorgeous, fearless Queen of the Jungle!
    It's beautiful. It's life on a different plane. But every new person who appeared on my running route at the start of 2012, obviously having made a New Year's resolution, has given up already. Don't do that -- try again! Start out easy. You can do it. Before long, it will be a joy, not a chore.

I remember how hard it was to get going more than 30 years ago. It actually made me feel sick while I was doing it, and even sicker afterward. I got one injury after another. But I was desperate enough to keep trying -- and I urge you to keep trying. Before long, you will find it thoroughly exhilarating.
    Running transforms your body. It nourishes your mind, both by keeping it biologically young and neurologically dynamic, filled with "firings" and forming new connections (it also encourages your mind to 'think through' find that you are meditating without even trying). 
A new study reported in the New York Times indicated that vigorous  exercise appears to build a brain that resists physical shrinkage and enhances cognitive flexibility. Exercise, the latest neuroscience suggests, does more to bolster thinking than thinking does. And it keeps the brain young by stimulating the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus.

    Running has all sorts of effects on your chemistry that can be quite profound. You feel different: refreshed, uplifted, silvery. Even though it "entitles" you to eat more, it actually moderates your appetite. And it is a great gift to your self-image. You feel so proud of yourself, and it urges you to believe you can do whatever you set your mind to.
You feel it all over!
 I was so exhausted by depression that the only way I could make myself go out was to consume quite a bit of alcohol first. I don't advise that, but it does suggest that each of us can develop a strategy that will get us into the groove. Once I came to love jogging while drunk, I graduated to running while sober. And getting high doing it!
Low expectations helped me. If I didn't feel like exercising, I would tell myself that I would just do a fraction of my usual regimen. Once I got myself out there, I found that I wanted to keep going.
For me, music is essential. It is everything! I think it's natural for most of us to enjoy moving to a beat. The energy it pours into you is extraordinary and self-reinforcing.  
I ultimately made running a mandatory, scheduled part of my day. I get up and do coffee and the Internet for an hour -- and then I'm out the door. It's not an issue: I'm doing it. I once went out with such a huge dental abscess that I looked like Elephant Man. A little boy saw me and burst out crying. But I had to do my run, and I was glad I did.
Before I made it mandatory, I put more energy into agonizing every day over whether I could or could not do it than I would have put into an actual workout. It was crazy.
 Just do it!
Although I started out by jogging, I think it would have been easier both psychologically and physically if I had begun my exercise program with walking.
Swing it, sisters!
And I don't mean strolling! Walk briskly. Exert yourself. You will be richly rewarded. 
I find walking with wrist weights to be an incredible whole-body workout. As you pump your arms back and forth, the weights tone your upper arms, chest and back. You will naturally feel inclined to tighten your abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine. Your tummy will get nice and flat! And your stride changes when you use weights such that your hips and your bum get a better workout as well.
You might want to just stay with walking, increasing your speed and the amount of weight you use. It's excellent, enjoyable exercise, and the statistics are clear that more people stick with this regimen than those who take up running.
Lean and mean. It feels so good!
 But I love to run. After all these decades, I still can't believe that I am capable of doing it. It's still a miracle to me, and I have had countless moments of transcendence while I'm out there hurtling through the air. My favorite time is when it's dark and pouring snow.
If you do persist with your running, a miracle happens at  some point. You begin to feel that you could go on forever. The fatigue disappears. Everything reaches a level of harmony, as if  you have ascended into a magical "zone," in which you are soaring as naturally as a bird. Time vanishes. You become a flow. Something new has been born. 
One Sunday, just before dawn, I was jogging through my beautiful, tree-lined old neighborhood near Liberty Park. It was a mild, fragrant spring morning with all the Disney effects: chirping birds, scampering squirrels, daffodils and violets, and a coral-colored glow in the clouds. I had been running for an hour and hadn’t seen even one other person. Then, in my peripheral vision, I sensed someone across the street, on the sidewalk, going in the opposite direction. I didn’t look over there, but I soon felt that what had gone past had a rather odd silhouette. I came to a full stop in the street and looked back. At the same moment, an elegant deer with a face of pure innocence stopped and looked back at me. (She must have thought that I had an odd silhouette as well.)
 We stood there, looking at each other -- was it one second, five, ten? Thirty?? The whole world seemed to have stopped to accommodate this moment. It wasn’t real time; it was magic time, miracle time, a moment of gentle communion that I will never forget. I don’t remember what broke the spell, but each of us turned back around and proceeded in our opposite directions. I was suffused with energy and gratitude for the privilege I had just received.
On another equally beautiful Sunday-morning jog, an older woman, all dressed up and expertly coiffed, smiled warmly at me as she descended her porch stairs and said, "I wish I were doing what you’re doing, instead of going to church."
"This IS church!" I called out as I dashed past her, gesturing at the wonders of Creation that were all around us. I really do feel that the Good Lord would have forgiven her if she’d slipped into some short-shorts and joined me.
Jogging is the closest I’ll ever get to religion, and they do share many features: awe, gratitude, contemplation, reverence and a feeling of oneness with mankind, nature and the universe. 
Jogging is heavenly.
They also share the uplifting element of music. The lyrics to my jogging tunes are rarely inspirational -- in fact they’re often a bit too profane even for my sensibilities -- but the rhythm, the tempo, the arrangement, the harmonies and the utter thrill of a beautiful, soulful voice or an anguished sax or a freaked-out guitar, provide the fuel that keeps me streaming through the air mile after mile.

 I have sensed for many years that when you run to music, it becomes a part of your body. Moving to it, pounding through it, breathing it in and exhaling it, being propelled by it and having the emotions it conveys coursing through every part of you, right into your DNA, allows you to own it in a way that I don’t think sedentary listening can produce. I can feel it in my blood, shining. I can feel it in my brain, rinsing out the cortical convolutions. The hairs on my arms stand on end, and sometimes (actually, quite often) I cry. Usually it’s about my parents.
(An Oct. 23, 2013, article documents how music increases workout intensity, decreases oxygen utilization and enhances enjoyment.  
The crying is just one reason that I began about 25 years ago to leave my house before 5 a.m. and run through the darkness while everyone else, it seemed, was still sleeping.
I also wanted to avoid the crazy commuters and the pollution. I wanted to avoid the sun, and the need to wear sunscreen. I wanted privacy, because it had always seemed to me that jogging was a bodily function that is most comfortably performed without an audience.
As I’ve gotten older, I value the privacy even more, because when I’m running to Beyonce or Nicki Minaj -- or some other defiantly, snarlingly hip-thrusting, hair tossing sex object – that is who I become, and I can feel them in my movements and my face and even in the way the breeze plays along. It’s outrageous!
Yep, that's me. It's a good thing it's dark outside!
 I am a fierce rock goddess, stampeding through the streets, venting my vitality with monstrous hormonal urgency. I don’t want any witnesses to this! It can’t be pretty! 
When I’m running to rap, I am one bad motherfucker, bitch, and (sorry about this) I like it. Back off!
If Mark Anthony, Pitbull, Aventura or Enrique Iglesias comes on, I am a 15-year-old Latina, in love for the first time, and I’m throwing some salsa moves into my jog -- I can’t help it, and I don’t want to anyway -- and I am feeling so exotic, and my yearning is boundless, and in my bum there’s a luscious new J-Lo roundness -- and I am sure I appear so ridiculous that there is no word adequate to describe it. Hot Tamale!
My Latin jogging gives me a temporary
 J Lo derriere. Briefly, I totally love myself!
 So I am very glad it is dark: I want to be able to feel and embody all the grind and thrash and ecstasy of rock music without appearing to be someone who needs to be escorted forthwith to the loony bin. As long as I’m invisible, I am free to be myself refracted through the prism of music. It is great.
And the darkness itself has a wild beauty to it, even in placid weather, but especially when there are lighting and thunder, microburst winds or gorgeous downfalls of snow. Darkness enriches the pleasure of solitude -- indeed, it makes it more solitary. I am the Night Watchman, patrolling these streets I love so much, making sure that everyone is safe and sound. For that magical interlude, which seems almost to take place in another sphere, I am Master of the Universe. And then, I return to reality.

It's 2013 already. Aren't you running out of excuses? (

Consider adding weight training to your regimen. It won't just turn you into a fabulous sculpture. Persuasive new research indicates that it will protect you from Alzheimer's disease, just as aerobic exercise does. But fMRI imaging indicates that it offers some special, previously undiscovered benefits that other forms of exercise do not.