Physical fitness: Preparing your body for the unknown

Oct. 25, 2011

By Dr. Bob Kroeger

Editor's Note: This is one in a series of installments from Dr. Kroeger. To read past installments, please click here.

I’ll never forget the empty feeling in my stomach when my late wife and I listened to the oncologist telling us that she had cancer. It was one of those moments that become embedded in your memory forever. It felt like a jury delivering a guilty verdict. Fortunately for me, my body was physically able to withstand the chemical barrage that stress was about to deliver over the next 14 months.

You never know when stressful events like this will happen. If you are overweight, have a few diseases, or like to indulge in heavy drinking or smoking, then your body is like a deer in headlights, and you are about to get creamed by a car. There are tons of studies showing the problems with obesity and the health benefits of exercising. Duh. The CDC is calling obesity an epidemic. Are you obese?

In January of 2005 I got a wakeup call. My 36-inch trousers became hard to fasten. Ugh. Since I didn’t want to buy new pants, I considered my options. With 190 pounds stuck on my 5’11” frame, I was overweight, even though I jogged occasionally, running six to eight miles a week. I was eating more but my pants were enjoying it less. My BMI (body mass index, which correlates to body fat percentage) was 26.5, solidly in the overweight category and only a few points away from obese (over 30). I was on the fast track for diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.

Click on obesity on the CDC website to determine your BMI. Then, if you’re overweight or worse, decide what you want to do about it. I was lucky. About the time of my annual goal setting, a little voice whispered as I was huffing and puffing on my favorite trail, “You can run a marathon.” I had tried training about 15 years earlier but hurt my hamstring. I figured my body wasn’t designed for marathons. But the voice persisted.

So I connected with an attorney-patient (you know, the kind of patient you treat with kid gloves) who, I had heard, ran marathons. I reasoned that if Jim could run one (he being even more overweight than me), then maybe I could, too. So I continued my two weekday runs and added a long weekend run with Jim. First one was 12 miles, which, at a very slow pace, didn’t kill me. After four months of training, I ran our Flying Pig marathon. My weight dropped to 165. Two years later I changed my nutritional habits and my weight plummeted to 150, where it has remained. Yes, I had to buy some new pants, but my energy level has doubled and I feel tremendously alive. My new BMI is 20.4.

This does not infer that you must run marathons to become fit. You don’t even have to run, which, I must warn you, can become addictive. Do everything in moderation. But you must improve your aerobic capacity (to strengthen your heart and lungs) through aerobics such as swimming, power walking (not just from the TV to the fridge), cycling, spinning, jazzercise. Get that heart pumping hard for at least 30 minutes a day.

I’d also recommend anaerobic strengthening, especially in the core. Weights and crunches help. We lose 1% of our strength each year after we turn 30. And we must pay attention to flexibility. About 10 years ago I began a stretching program on a large exercise ball. Voila! No back problems. Or Yoga and Pilates classes are fun, even if you’re like me and show up in running shorts for your first Yoga class.

Don’t have time for all this exercise? You’re not alone. Most sedentary folks invent countless excuses to avoid the very thought of exercise. But envision yourself at 55 or 65 lying on the operating table waiting for the surgeon to begin triple bypass. No thank you!

One warning: If your BMI falls into the obese category, check with your physician (choose one who’s in shape) before starting an exercise program. Go slowly. A recipe for injury is doing too much, too soon. I know because I’ve been there. Who knows, maybe I’ll see you at my next marathon..

Editor's Note: To read past installments from Dr. Kroeger, please click here.

Dr. Bob Kroeger retired after practicing general dentistry for 33 years. A stress management consultant, he presents seminars to the dental profession as well as to general industry. In addition to lecturing and writing, he runs seven to nine marathons a year and is a certified personal trainer. Contact him at [email protected].