Archive for June 2007

No Child Left Inside

June 19, 2007

Willow Mariah Nelson, my five-year-old goddaughter and niece, proudly showed me recently how she can swing across the entire horizonal ladder at a local playground. During my recent visit to her Belair, California home, we also jumped on her trampoline and hiked up the hill behind her home, discovering numerous fascinating little bugs along the way. Last year, her father and I took her camping. When we gather at the New Jersey shore, we spend evenings catching (and releasing) toads.

All of these outdoor activities engage and delight Willow – thank goodness.

Fewer and fewer kids enjoy exploring their natural environment or even playing outdoors, according to an article in today’s Washington Post called “Getting Lost in the Great Outdoors.”

Studies that measure children’s time outdoors omit organized sports from the accounting – perhaps because what psychologists believe children need is not just fresh air but free play. Time to explore. Freedom to make up their own games. Permission to wander, and to wonder.

As adults, it’s easy to romanticize our own childhoods, and bemoan the fact that kids these days don’t do what we did. But as I’ve watched not only Willow but numerous other nieces, nephews, and young friends grow up over the years, this trend toward indoor-only play seems obvious – and ominous.

My brother and I used to spend summer evenings playing kick the can, “tree seek,” baseball, tetherball, and football in our yards, or neighbors’ yards. We rode bikes around the neighborhood, explored the woods near our house, built dams across the creek, caught lightning bugs in jars, and hung upside down from the swingset, pretending we were bats. Perhaps it’s because of these happy memories that he now takes Willow and her brother Tanner outdoors every chance he gets.

Yet even in the six-year span from 1997 to 2003, there was a fifty percent decline in the proportion of 9-to-12-year-olds who spent time hiking, fishing, gardening, or playing at th beach, according to one study at the University of Maryland.

In Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv contends that children who stay indoors suffer from “nature deficit disorder,” missing out on “the spiritual, emotional, and psychological benefits of exposure to the wonders of nature, including reduced stress and improved cognitive development, creativity, and cooperative play.”

I want such benefits – and simple enjoyment – for the children in my life. Don’t you?

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Easy, Effective Diet Plan

June 15, 2007

Eat less for dinner.

That’s pretty much it. Eat a normal breakfast and lunch. Snack if you’re hungry.

Oh yeah – choose healthy foods. That’s a big caveat.

But the real trick to this diet — or maintenance plan — is to eat less for dinner. Just a little less, so you go to bed a wee big hungry.

Lying there in bed, you don’t need to do anything (usually,) so you don’t need fuel. You can let your body burn off a few calories because of the caloric deficiency you just created by eating a little less than you were hungry for.

The next morning, eat a normal breakfast. Eat a normal lunch. Oh yeah – keep choosing healthy foods. Then eat less for dinner.

The reason this works is because you’re not starving yourself. You don’t feel deprived, emotionally or physically. You just feel a wee bit hungy – which, on the way to sleep, I find to be a rather pleasant sensation, much preferable to going to bed full.

Most importantly, you wake up happy, because you’re a little thinner – and you still get to eat a regular breakfast and lunch.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Race for the Cure: Exercise as Service

June 10, 2007

I met Jane Hess when she interviewed me to talk about We Are All Athletes, my latest book. (How fun to meet eye-to-eye with another woman who’s six-two!)

But television host is only her part-time passion; her fulltime passion is inspiring others to “get out and give back,” as she calls it.

Recently she raised $3000 for breast cancer treatment and research while getting in shape and building community. She writes:

The last time I ran for exercise was back in 1986… So, when I volunteered to run a 5K (3.1 miles) as part of the “Christmas Fish” team for the Race for the Cure, it was like volunteering to sing the National Anthem at a baseball game – something I’d always wanted to do but for which I was innately unqualified.

Nonetheless I began training two months beforehand as if I were running the Marine Corps marathon. I charged up the iPod and started – just run until the song is over, I told myself. Then run for two songs, then three songs … and by race day, I could run 3.5 miles, dropped almost ten pounds and was back into my “skinny” jeans.

Then it was race day. Nearly 45,000 of us, outfitted in our “Race for the Cure” T-shirts, gulped water, bananas and granola bars as bands played, celebrities spoke and breast cancer survivors were recognized and applauded. When the race began, the street was as crammed with runners as a shopping mall the day after Thanksgiving.

A few times I had to run in place behind the people in front of me, waiting for a chance to maneuver ahead. Outwardly I complained that they slowed me down. Inwardly, I thanked them for the break.

Some of the runners and walkers pinned flyers to the back of their T-shirt to honor breast cancer survivors or remember the women who had lost the fight. Some flyers had pictures, with “Mommy” or “My wife” or other heartbreaking words.

My goal? To run the entire 5K without walking, and to not come in last. As the race started I turned my iPod on to Aerosmith, Van Halen and the Weather Girls (“It’s Raining Men”) to rock me to the finish line. Thirty-eight minutes later it was over. Our non-running posse met us with water bottles and high-fives. I hit my two goals and the “Christmas Fish” raised over $3,000.

And that Saturday morning, as I was surrounded by 45,000 people who raised 2.6 million dollars for breast cancer research and care, I finally understood the value of community. Every single one of us was united by someone we’d either lost to breast cancer or were still cheering on to defeat it.

I ran for Leslie, Sheri, Abby-Jill… and everyone else who’d fought or are still fighting this stupid disease. So if getting up at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday to sweat like a pig for three miles is what it takes, then I’ll keep on doing it.

There are worse ways to lose ten pounds.

Get out and give back.

More about Jane’s work:

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Tooth Grinding and Mouth Guards: An Alternative

June 10, 2007

Your dentist says, “Do you grind your teeth at night?”

You say, “Yes.”

Or you say, “No.” Doesn’t matter.

Your dentist says, “You need a tooth guard.”

You say, “Okay.” The dentist then sells you an expensive rubber contraption for your mouth, or you buy a cheaper one that doesn’t fit as well from the grocery store or the internet.

But you do have another option. This option is: Stop grinding your teeth.

I say to my dentist: How about if I stop grinding my teeth?

It’s clear from his response that he’s never heard of such a thing, and doubts if it’s possible.

I persist: “Surely, with all the tooth-grinding patients you see, there are some who have taught themselves to relax their jaws at night?”

“It’s hard to change an unconscious behavior that happens when you’re asleep,” he explains.

Well, sure. But worth a try. So on the way to sleep, I relax my jaw. There are many muscles in the jaw, and it’s an interesting experience to try to release the tension in all of them. It’s…. relaxing!

Then, if I wake up at night, my first thought (besides “I wonder if I really need to go to the bathroom or can wait”) is, “Relax the jaw.”

After about a year of this, I’ve noticed these things:

1) Jaw tension happens during the day too.
2) I have significantly decrease tooth-grinding through this awareness campaign
3) my entire head, neck, and even shoulders feel better when I relax my jaw.

Better than a mouth guard? You bet!

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Writing and Moving: Possibilities of Change

June 8, 2007

Here’s what David Grossman, author of Her Body Knows, says about writing: “Writers know that when we write, we feel the world move; it is flexible, crammed with possibilities…

“When I write, even now, the world is not closing in on me, and it does not grow ever so narrow: it also makes gestures of opening up toward a future prospect.”

Any writer will relate to that. While writing, all things are possible. Writing offers an altered stated of consciousness that is pleasurable in itself.

Athletes know that the same is true for movement. Athletes know that when we move, “we feel the world move; it is flexible, crammed with possibilities… ”

When we move, “the world makes gestures of opening up toward a future prospect.”

Grossman’s quote was from the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, which he delivered at PEN’s World Voices Festival on April 29, 2007. It was adapted for the New York Times Magazine (May 13, 2007) as “Writing in the Dark.”

I haven’t read Her Body Knows yet, but I have to wonder what Grossman knows. Has he noticed the similarity between writing and movement: how both transport us to a place where all things are possible?

Have you?

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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You’re at the Beach. Relax and Slow Down

June 3, 2007

Upon entering Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, drivers eager to get to the ocean, get to their condos or hotels, and get out of their hot cars encounter this sign: “You’re at the Beach. Relax and Slow Down.”

It’s a small sign, sky blue with dolphins or clouds or something peaceful painted on it — not a screaming billboard. A quiet sign, with a quiet message.

I love that sign.

I love vacationing in Rehoboth.

I love relaxing and slowing down, and I have noticed that we don’t really need to reserve that behavior for the beach.

We could, if we choose to, create our own signs:

You’re alive. Relax and slow down.

You’re racing through life, and missing many of the good parts: Relax and slow down.

Your kids and parents need your attention: Relax and slow down.

Your body needs your attention: Relax and slow down.

It’s fun; try it: Relax and slow down.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Stress Positions: Are You Torturing Yourself and Calling It “Life”?

June 3, 2007

In an article called “Bodies Under Stress” and other writings, author Mark Danner delineates the euphemisms the United States government uses to describe torture.

“Stress positions”: people hung by their wrists, men standing naked with women’s underpants wrapped around their faces.

“Use of dogs to induce stress”: Trained attack dogs biting and threatening to bite prisoners.

“Waterboarding”: the practice of holding someone’s head underwater for long periods of time – then repeating the practice.

“Sleep adjustment”: Forcing people to stand on a box for hours, believing they’ll be electrocuted if they fall off the box.

“Enhanced interrogation techniques”: a compendium of abuses that any rational person (especially on the receiving end) would describe as torture.

Danner is the author of “Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror”and “The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History.”

What this brings to mind for me (besides a fervent desire for a “regime change” in the United States government) is this: Into what “stress positions” do you choose to contort your own body?

What do you call it when you starve yourself, stuff yourself with unhealthy foods, “beat yourself up” with negative thoughts, or remain sitting for hours on end, depriving yourself of the oxygen, blood flow, and muscular activity you know your body needs?

Do you justify these self-torture techniques as “necessary”?

Am I comparing military torture with personal bad habits?

You bet.

You don’t have to be a political prisoner to put yourself on a medieval sort of “rack”: allowing over-commitment to pull you in all directions at once until your joints ache, your head hurts, and you can’t think straight.

The only comforting thought, when reading about torture, is, “At least it’s not me.”

What I’m suggesting is this: Maybe it is you. Maybe you are imposing your own “stress positions,” your own “sleep adjustment,” your own “waterboarding.”

Maybe you’re drowning in work or worry. Maybe you’re placing extreme stress on your body through prolonged inactivity and neglect – then failing to face the reality of the situation.

I hope not. But as a lifelong athlete, I know that I succumb to self-destructive behaviors myself sometimes: sit too long, for instance, when absorbed in the task at hand. Place my shoulders or back in “stress positions,” ignoring the pain while pursuring other pleasures, such as golf. Drink “grande Chai soy latte,” even though I know it will result in “sleep adjustment” that night as I needlessly fret about deadlines and commitments.

Most of us have the privilege of never being physically tortured by others.

Let’s not do it to ourselves.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Every Day Your Body Changes

June 2, 2007

At the end of Karen Voight’s Yoga Sculpting DVD, after you’ve done Warrior One and Warrior Two and Downward Facing Dog and Chair Pose until you’re literally blue in the face, Voight says, “Just notice how your body’s feeling. Every day it changes.”

Every day your body changes.

Why? Because of how you feed it, water it, stretch it, strengthen it. Because of how you take care of it, or don’t. (And yes, Karen Voight is INCREDIBLY buff, and no, looking like Karen Voight is really NOT the point, and NOT achievable for most people.)

One of the greatest miracles is the miracle of an individual human’s evolution: from infant to toddler, kid, teen, young adult, older adult, old person: every day our bodies change.

But this is not “automatic.” How we grow – straight or crooked, healthy or sick – is largely a function of how we treat these sensitive organisms called our bodies.

This miracle of growth and change — all the sensations of skin and muscle and breath — should be, if we’re paying attention, sufficient to prevent all boredom forever.

More importantly, this miracle alone – the fact that our bodies are changing every day — should be, if we’re paying attention, sufficient motivation to persuade us to be kind to these miraculous bodies.

This seems to be Karen Voight’s point. Pay attention — without judgment. Every day your body changes. A simple fact. Are you doing everything you possibly can to facilitate positive change?

Are you paying attention?

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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