Saturday, March 15, 2014

Checking In and Prattling On (Then Passing Out)

I woke up like this.

Except I wasn’t quite as happy about it.

I really did; today was the first spring day New York had seen all YEAR, and I spent it on my sofa rocking sweatpants and bedhead.  I’ve got some kind of war of the worlds going on in my throat, and it’s making me want to stay horizontal at all times.  I was invited out to go thrifting, even, and I had to turn down the offer to stay home and drink tea with honey and eat Mallomars.

No, Mallomars.

Anyway, I’m writing this to check in on the Ides of March, because I remember that I said I would be in touch regarding my 31-day challenge progress.  Fifteen days ago, I pledged to complete one 7-minute workout per day for the month of March. My thoughts about this at the halfway point are part grumpy and part thoughtful.

The grumpy part of me (refereeing throat-based battles) goes like this: If I ever do a 30-day challenge again, I am going to keep it private.  It takes less than a week for me hate the whole concept, but then I have to keep at it because I promised the Internet.  But Im resentful, and I’m grumbling through each seven minutes of jumping jacks and leg lifts and squats.  In fact, those seven minutes are something I dread all day.  Those seven minutes are almost always the last thing I do before bed, because I have put them off for just that long.

This is not how I do jumping jacks.

The thoughtful part of me goes like this: I might be doing it wrong.

The thing is, I probably am doing it wrong.  My intent in embarking on this challenge was to kick off each morning with a 7-minute workout before facing the day.  What’s happened instead is that I’ve woken up every morning and turned off the alarm.  In theory, I have a lot of time built into my mornings, so that I can start my day focused on a fairly wide range of goals.  But instead of achieving anything, I hit my alarm every time it goes off, and then I usually roll out of bed late.

This extended snooze is one of those things (like Mallomars) that feels good in the instant that it’s happening but feels crummy overall.  I do give myself a lot of pep talks at night about how I won’t oversleep and how I’ll wake up and be productive, but I rarely take my own advice.  It just so happens that this week I read a really great article on Elephant Journal entitled “Are We Cheating Ourselves Each Morning?” As a ritualistic morning cheater, I was intrigued.

By James L. Stanfield. Absolutely nobody is cheating this guy out of sleep.

The article, by Julie van Amerongen, starts by outlining what we’re putting our brains through when we settle back in for those extra minutes of slumber.  Instead of picking up where we left off in our sleep cycle, we start the whole thing over again.  So if you subscribe to a standard 9-minute snooze, you’re jarring your body out of a brand new cycle, much deeper than the R.E.M. you were enjoying before the alarm went off.  (I set my alarms in a series of 30 minutes, but I almost never get through that much time without a nose bite.)  That may not seem like a big deal, but it turns out that the effects of this fragmented sleep can impair our cognitive functioning over the course of the day.  That disconnect between the sleep you should be getting and the sleep you’re really getting is called social jetlag, and it can lead to increased use of caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, and Mallomars.

All that is important, but it strays a bit from van Amerongen’s main point, which is that your morning is for you.  You would never oversleep for a meeting or an appointment (scheduled on someone else’s time, unless you’re the kind of big shot who runs meetings).  So why would you sabotage your own time?  I’m using the second person here, but as the old adage goes, when I point one finger there are three pointing back at me.

Probably at my fly-ass shirt ruffle.

This is an admission: I’m a sleep abuser.  The older I get (and I am now old enough to forget my age a lot of the time), the more I feel I really need my sleep.  That said, I also maintain that I am a morning person, the type who enjoys extended coffee breaks and early writing sessions to kick off the day.  Ideally.  Thats my ideal morning, but how can it be that I dont create an ideal morning, every morning?  If I dont make this time for myself, this time that comes free with actual scientific benefits, who is?  Its a change Ive really got care enough to make.  So while I probably cannot immediately retrain myself to soldier through all 1.5 hours of my morning alarms, I can certainly commit to an extra seven minutes.  So that is my new goal from now until April: one 7-minute workout every day.  Every morning.

And then after that, no more public goals, ever.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

7 Rabbits, 7 Rabbits

Rabbit, rabbit!  

It’s the first day of the month.  When you wake up on the first day of the month, you’re supposed to say “rabbit, rabbit” the very first thing, and then you’ll have a month of good luck.  I did not say “rabbit, rabbit” first thing this morning.  I have a very boisterous kitten whose preferred method of ordering breakfast is to bite my nose.  If you have never been woken up in this manner, I will share that it is highly effective, like an alarm with no snooze button.  So the first thing I said this morning was the first thing I say every morning, which is a rather desperate plea of, “No biting!  No biting!”  Sadly, this command has never been heeded.

The first thing I see, every morning.

But I digress!  And I digress on purpose, frankly, because I remember that I was supposed to check in about my progress on Prevention Magazine’s 28-day challenge.  And I never did.  I have good reasons for this communication breakdown, namely that I was totally overwhelmed by the 28-day challenge and I quit on Day 3.

I am sorry.  But you guys, Prevention Magazine totally slapped that challenge together on the fly.  It was just a random combination of bodyweight exercises illustrated in pink, with no instructions aside from the words “Ten Minutes.”  Even the schedule is weird: you spend a week working on your arms and glutes and then you switch to a new exercise, allowing your chicken flaps to soften and sag for three weeks while you work on your tummy.  But mostly the timing was impossible.  I cannot do 2.5 minutes of triceps dips and then a full five minutes of lunges.  I simply cannot.  I do not have the capacity.  And triceps dips can be dangerous if performed improperly.

So I quit.  And that was a while ago and then I spent maybe a teensy bit too much time offline between quitting and announcing I had quit.  But today is a new month!  It is a month of spring!  It is a month of rabbits!  So I’m starting a new challenge.  It’s going to have to be a 31-day challenge this time, since March is a long month, but I can take it.


This challenge is going to be worlds different from the last, in part because it hasn’t been designed as a ploy by Prevention Magazine to obtain my email address.  Instead I’ve converted to the 7-minute workout.

The 7-minute workout, if you haven’t heard, is a fitness trend that’s gained some popularity among people who don’t care to spend hours at the gym.  The workout was developed as part of a study published last year in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal.  Public response was positive.  People loved it.  They loved it so much that they distilled the workout to its essence (the seven minutes part) without paying attention to some of the finer details, such as:

  • The workout was designed to be completed two or three times in full.  So although “7-minute workout” is catchier, the benefits described in this study actually come from a 21-minute workout.  Full disclosure: since I’m still only halflistic, I’ll be taking on just seven extra minutes a day for this challenge.
  • The authors suggest taking enough time to do 15 to 20 repetitions of each exercise.  (Which, show me a person who can do 20 pushups and rotations in 30 seconds, and I’ll show you Dolph Lundgren.)
  • Critics have noted that the science behind the workout may not totally hold water.

But you know what does hold water?  My gut. (HEY-O!)  So I downloaded the app, which is free, and for the next month, I’m letting Siri bark orders at me for seven minutes each morning.  I gave myself a taste of this challenge in February, on mornings when it was too cold to go to the gym or on days when I wanted to kick off my cardio with seven extra minutes.  I will say this: when I add the 7-minute workout to 30 on the elliptical, it wipes me out.  Likewise, when I do a couple rounds in the morning before breakfast, I end up ravenous.  (Morning workouts have been touted to improve metabolism throughout the day, which may not be entirely true, but personally I can say they make me a lot hungrier.)

Plus it’s best to eat most of your calories early in the day.

Just to spare myself the indignity of doing the same exercises day after day (the futility of which has been well documented) I’m going to go big and pay the extra $1.98 for two alternate 7-minute workouts that come as add-ons with the free app.  And I’ll continue my normal routine of cardio and yoga.  I’ll check in (PINKY SWEAR) to report my progress.  And this month will be mine.

Rabbit, rabbit, indeed.

No joke.