Swimming, The Best, Most Fabulous, Sport Ever

I love swimming.  I started competing at 6 years old, swam in college, and transitioned to open water marathon swims in the years before starting medical school.  As a resident I don’t get to swim as often as I would like, but I take every opportunity available to get a dose of chlorinated endorphins.

Initially going to swim practice was a drag.  I wanted to play with my friends after school, not go to swim practice.  I used to try to get out of it, but my dad was firm and I dutifully, though a little resentfully, went to practice every day.  When I started to get a taste of success by the age of 8, Dad didn’t need to push me anymore.  I started double workouts (2 sessions in one day) when I was ten years old.  People told me I would burn out, but here I am in my 30s, still at it.  In the water I feel strong, powerful, and beautiful.  The rest of the world melts away, narrowing to the sound of my breath, the water flowing past, and making the next interval.  A lot of creativity and problem solving blossoms during a swimming workout – in fact, it was during a swim session that I had the idea for starting this blog.  No matter what else is going on in my life, swimming brings me joy and perspective.  My mother once commented that, “You never look as happy as you do when you are in the water.”

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Smiley Swimmer!

With that introduction, I am going to share why I think swimming is The Best, Most Fabulous, Sport Ever.  Hopefully I’ll make a convert out of you…or at least talk you into getting your kids involved in this amazing sport!

Reason #10:  It’s not a popularity contest. 

Swimming is an egalitarian sport.  Beyond the clock, there are no judges in swimming.  There isn’t a points system or subjective evaluation criteria.  There is no “selection committee” for the US Olympic Swim Team.  There is no situation where two athletes compete dazzlingly well and someone else decides the winner.  It doesn’t matter how pretty you are, how popular you are, where you train, who your coach is, or how smart you are.  All that matters is who gets their hand on the wall first.

Reason #9:  Swimmers are nice. 

Maybe it’s because we spend a lot of time in our own heads, and therefore crave human interaction.  Maybe it’s because we’ve been beaten into submission so often by killer workouts and the only thing that got us through was camaraderie.  Or maybe it’s because the nature of the sport involves sharing space and getting over the occasional foot tap or arm whack with a “sorry dude!” and an “it’s cool!”  Whatever the reason, swimmers are a really friendly lot.  We will strike up conversations with pretty much anyone.  Complete strangers end up doing workouts together.  When we join a new team or training group, we are immediately part of the family.  And we love sharing the joy of swimming and getting new people to try this awesome sport.

Denver Swimmers
Denver Dawn Patrol! My training group in medical school.

Reason #8:  Swimmers are fun!

Work hard, play hard.  When you don’t get much time off, you tend to make the most of the opportunities that arise.  Moreover, you have to have a playful disposition to get through the hours of training.  Swimming tends to breed outgoing people who aren’t afraid to be a little silly.

Reason #7: Swimming teaches valuable life lessons.

Success in swimming is all about what you put into it.  Again, there are no judges or selection committees.  Popularity, socioeconomic status, and appearances can’t help you in this sport.  If you want success, you have to work hard.  You have to overcome obstacles, push through setbacks, and pick yourself up after failures.  There’s no one who can do it for you.  Swimming teaches you how to set goals and go after them.  Swimming teaches mental tenacity, determination, and perseverance.  It fosters ambition and competitiveness, the audacity to dream big and the patience to take the multitude of small steps required to get there.  It teaches camaraderie and teamwork, trust and faith.  Swimming, especially while growing up, is a practice run at life.  By the time you arrive on the threshold of adulthood, you have experience setting goals, working hard, balancing commitments, shouldering discomfort, dealing with failure, and refusing to give up.  You have grit.

Reason #6: Swimming prepares you to be a Resident.

Honestly, after 15 years of getting up at 4am to dive into a cold pool and workout for 2 hours, waking up at 5am to round is relatively cushy.  What, all I have to do is go to work?  And I get to keep my warm clothes?  Sweet!  My husband, also a resident, frequently grumbles about how alert and oriented I am at 5am just moments after my alarm goes off.  If you want your kid to be a doc, swimming isn’t a bad way to prepare her for #residencylife.

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OB/GYN Residents: we work a lot, but still have time to smile!

Reason #5.  The pool isn’t a bad place to meet people.

I will refer you back to #9 and #8 as a way of explaining that I have been asked on more dates on the pool deck than any other venue.  Swimmers honestly are interesting, nice people.  Moreover, when you meet a fellow swimmer, you know you are meeting someone who shares your values and understands your lifestyle.  It’s much, much better than meeting someone at a bar.

Reason #4: Swimming lets you travel.

Whether for national competitions, international meets, training trips, or open water swimming events, swimming is definitely a way to see the world.  Because of swimming I had visited the following places by the age of 25: Alaska, England, Wales, Scotland, Australia, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, Aruba, Maui, and France.  Some of my friends who achieved even greater success in competitive swimming had traveled even more than I by the time they hit their mid-20s.

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Hiking in Maui after the Maui Channel Swim.

If you get into open water swimming, you also get to see things most people don’t see.  One of the neatest experiences I had was swimming around Treasure Island and under the Bay Bridge in the San Francisco Bay while training to swim the English Channel.  Looking up at the underside of the bridge I thought to myself, how many people really get to appreciate this view?  One of my 10 year vacation goals is to do a swimming tour of the Greek islands.  You can check out an example of these aquatic vacation opportunities here.

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Swimming by Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay.

Reason #3: Swimming just feels good. 

There’s something special about being in the water that is truly restorative.  Maybe it’s because our lives begin in the salt water of our mother’s womb.  Maybe it’s the fact that swimming is a total body workout that gets the blood pumping and the endorphins flowing.  Maybe it’s just the peace that comes from shutting out the rest of the world.   Whatever the reason, finishing a swim leaves you feeling wonderful and refreshed, whether you are pushing yourself hard or just doing a few leisurely laps.  I enjoy all sorts of exercise and activity – running, high intensity interval training, hiking, yoga, lifting – but nothing leaves me with the same feeling of simultaneous vibrance and languor as swimming.

Reason #2:  Swimming is a family sport.

My grandfather was a swimming legend (more on him below).  My father swam in college and went on to become a triathlete, and my uncle was also a triathlete, completing IRONMAN Kona despite being worn down by chemotherapy.  My mother learned to swim while she was pregnant with yours truly.  My sister swam until she transformed into a rowing prodigy in high school.  When I was a kid we would show up at open water events and all of us – my grandfather, my dad, my uncle, my sister, and me – would sign up for the races.  My childhood revolved around weekends at swim meets, which were basically big social events interspersed with bursts of competition. The younger siblings of my friends were all friends, and the parents of my friends were my parents’ friends.

My husband does triathlons and sometimes comes to the pool with me.  My parents still swim, and I often meet up with them at their sports club on weekends.  My mom and I grab lanes next to each other – we are ridiculously adorable – and swim next to each other.  I am destined to become a swim mom who takes her kids to swim practice and then works out with the master’s team a few lanes over.  It’s all in the family 🙂

Reason #1: You can, literally, keep swimming until you die.  

As swimming is a low-impact activity, you can continue to swim and even compete well after most other athletes need to give up their sport (how many 90 year old gymnasts do you see?)  My grandfather, Gary Weisenthal, was nationally ranked in his prime, and would have competed in the 1940 Olympics as part of the 4 x 100m freestyle relay, were the Olympic Games not cancelled in that year.  He competed in Masters Swimming well into his 90s, and was still participating in distance open water races into his 80s.  I remember that the first year I competed in the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim 3 mile event at age 13, he completed the 10 mile race at age 81.  He was a Masters Swimming All American 20 times.  He still holds world records in Masters Swimming for the 100 meter and 200 meter backstroke for age group 95-99, and he was still swimming the week he died at 101 years old.  He was an amazing man, beloved by all who knew him, and a true inspiration for me.  I always wanted to be like him, and I, too, intend to keep swimming for the rest of my life.

Old Grand Dad 2013
My Old Grand Dad circa 2013, age 99.  He was the brightest light in any room.

In conclusion, swimming is The Best, Most Fabulous, Sport Ever.  It does wonders for the mind, body, and soul, and it is something you can keep doing forever.  If you aren’t a swimmer yet, I hope you give it a try sometime – maybe I’ll see you in the water!

 

 

Post-Call/Pre-Call Saturday Fabulousness

Call is a necessary evil in the world of medicine.  Patients don’t stop delivering, problems don’t disappear, and consults don’t stop coming in just because it’s after 6pm or a weekend. In a hospital, someone has to be around to take care of patients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Enter the concept of “call,” which is basically covering any duties beyond the Monday through Friday 7am-6pm normal work day.  In my world of OB/GYN “call” is a bit of a misnomer – we aren’t hanging out at home “on call”, waiting to be called in.  We are at the hospital when we take call, readily on hand in case a patient needs an emergent cesarean section or a trip to the OR for a ruptured ectopic.  You may not always see us doctors, but someone is always there, haunting the halls, making sure everyone on the service is doing okay.

Usually we try to space out 24 hour calls, taking turns at the responsibility of living in the hospital, in order to ensure the maintenance of sanity.  There is only so much sleep deprivation and stress a human body can handle.  While some of our senior colleagues bemoan the advent of work hour restrictions and the more humane treatment of residents, I have to say these are good developments in medical training.  As someone who has been awake for 36 hours straight, I can confirm there is a certain point of fatigue at which I become unsafe to practice medicine.  Incorporating a degree of balance into medical training keeps patients safe and residents happy, decreasing errors and burnout alike.

Sometimes, however, you just gotta deal with a lot of call.

This is how I found myself on Saturday, post-call from a 24 hour shift on Friday, and pre-call before another 24 hour shift on Sunday.  In these situations, I find it is important to make something fabulous happen to avoid spiraling into the depths of despair.  If life becomes a dreary slog of work – sleep – work, it’s easy to feel unhealthy, unbalanced, and depressed.

Step 1 of my Saturday fabulousness was, indeed, sleep – you can’t feel fabulous when you are tired!  I showered off the hospital, closed my black-out curtains, and kicked my husband out of the apartment for 5 hours of glorious, undisturbed rest.  (Don’t worry – he went off to do “man tasks” and did not resent the temporary eviction).

Step 2 was to work out.  Whenever I wake up from a nap post-call I feel pretty awful, my brain fuzzy and my body stiff.  Some sort of physical activity to get my blood pumping and endorphins flowing always, without fail, makes me feel dramatically better.  My local gym is closed on Saturdays, so I pulled up a 60 minute HIIT workout on Fitness Blender and got my body moving.  By the end, I was sweating, sore, and alert.  It felt wonderful!

Step 3 for battling the depression of call-overload: get pretty.  Shower, put on real-people clothes, put on a touch of make up.  Maybe go crazy and wear heels, even if you’re just in your own house.  I want to feel like a normal person, even if it’s only for a few hours before I need to head back to bed for additional pre-call sleep.  It’s hard not to feel good when you look good!

Step 4 – now that you feel fabulous again, do something fabulous!  We could have gone out, and sometimes we do, but this Saturday it seemed like too much work.  Instead, Brian and I decided to turn our apartment into a fine-dining establishment.  We love to cook, and we really love to cook together.  So we threw on some music, lit all of our numerous candles, and got to it.

As an appetizer, I created a cheeseboard for the two of us to nibble while we were cooking.  Among other things, I was starving, having not eaten since breakfast and also having worked out – I needed food ASAP, and few things make me happier than good wine with good cheese!  I usually try to serve at least 3 different cheeses on my cheeseboards, and I like to have yummy accompaniments, like fruit, nuts, and different crackers.

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Cheeseboard for two!

For this particular cheeseboard, I selected a sheep milk cheese (bottom left – Mitica Cordobes from Whole Foods), a Roth Kase Private Reserve cow milk cheese (top right, also from Whole foods), and a goat Chèvre from Trader Joe’s served with a blackberry-walnut jam (top left).  I added some grapes, blackberries, and pistachios, as well as a wheat cracker and an olive-fig cracker.  We opened a bottle of Merlot from Paso Robles to sip as we enjoyed our cheese and prepared the rest of our dinner.

I made a salad of arugula and spinach with tomatoes, cucumber, pistachios, dried currants, and crumbled goat cheese.  I find the best way to do salads is to dress the greens and plate them first, then add the remainder of your ingredients.  This makes sure your salad looks attractive, and keeps all the additional goodies from collecting at the bottom of your mixing bowl.  For the dressing, I drizzled EVOO and aged balsamic from The Olive Press over the greens and tossed in some sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  If you use high quality oil and vinegar, you really don’t need much more for a truly delicious salad dressing!

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Spinach and arugula salad with EVOO and balsamic.

While I was preparing the cheese and the salad, Brian was working on our main entree.  He prepared a soy-ginger glaze that he poured over some beautiful salmon filets, and took them out to grill on a cedar plank.  I tossed some asparagus spears in olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and added some finely chopped shallots.  The key to good asparagus is to turn off the heat before the asparagus is fully cooked; it will continue to cook in the hot pan while you are waiting to plate, and you end up with a flavorful, crisp asparagus as opposed to a soggy, mushy mess.  When we were done, we had a restaurant quality meal that we had prepared ourselves.

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Grilled soy-ginger salmon with asparagus.

We added some fresh bread warmed in the oven with more of the delicious Olive Press EVOO and balsamic for dipping, and poured more of our lovely Merlot.  It was from a winery in Breckenridge, Colorado, though the grapes were sourced from Paso Robles.  The wine was very fruit-forward with prominent notes of blackberry and black plum.  It was soft on the palate and pleasant to drink, and it went well with our meal.

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A date at home!

We sat down for our home-prepared meal and enjoyed each other’s company in the warm glow of candle light.  We had a lovely evening, and I felt relaxed, loved, healthy, and happy.  I felt as though balance had been restored to my life, and I felt ready to tackle another 24 hour call with grace and good will.  When you work a lot, you have to make fabulous happen, whatever that looks like for you.  The next time you are feeling downtrodden and overworked, take a moment to do whatever you need to do to feel normal again, and keep your inner spark sparkling!

Discovering HIIT

I have spent the majority of my life as an endurance athlete.  I started swimming when I was 5 years old, and as a distance freestyler I averaged 8,000-10,000 yards a practice, 9 – 10 practices a week, starting when I was 12.  I always loved running, and when I injured my shoulder at the age of 13 and needed to stay out of the water for a year, I took up cross country.  Until I started Residency 3 years ago, I was still swimming 90 minutes 5-6 days a week and running here and there for fun.  In my mind, a workout wasn’t a workout unless it took at least an hour.

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Swimming, my favorite thing!

Enter Residency.  For those who have never had the privilege to experience it, Residency is basically modern day indentured servitude.  You pretty much lose control of your life.  You work insane hours for meager pay (once, as an intern, I calculated my hourly wage – it was barely above the state minimum).  You are regularly criticized and rarely praised.  Most of your time off is spent studying, performing required research or quality improvement studies, or sleeping.  Finding time to swim or run for an hour a day?  Ha, right.  I think maybe the most dedicated, who don’t live with a significant other, potentially could.  Despite my endorphin addiction and pretty determined dedication, though, I found I couldn’t.  I was getting older and 4 hours of sleep a night wasn’t cutting it anymore.  I was newly married and actually rather liked spending time with my husband.  And I was so terrified of screwing up and hurting someone that I spent any residual time reading about medicine.

I swam when I could and ran when I could, but I started to feel depressed.  Exercise has been such a huge part of my life that without it, I just feel gross and unhealthy.  The one good thing about being a resident is that your job is not sedentary – you run around all over the hospital – so I got a FitBit and felt a little better about myself when I realized that I was walking so many steps and getting in so many flights.

As I moved through residency and graduated from internship, things got a little better.  I became a more confident and efficient doctor, and I passed the torch of intern scut to the new batch of bright-eyed and eager recent medical school grads.  I started having a bit more time to workout, and on certain rotations I was actually able to get back into decent swimming shape.  At the end of 2 months of swimming 1 hour 4 days a week, for example, I was actually starting to make repeat 100s freestyle on 1:10!  I would feel amazing – healthy, vital, fast, strong, and happy.  Then, however, I’d be back on a really hard rotation with more demanding hours, and I would lose that wonderful feeling.

Like all good 30-somethings of this modern era, I spend an inordinate amount of time on Facebook.  Standing in line at the grocery store, sitting at a stoplight, brushing my teeth (yep, guilty!), I “like” and comment and post pictures with the best of them.  It was on Facebook that I, the endurance athlete who scoffs at the idea of a 24 minute “workout,” started to see a lot of adds for this new exercise concept called HIIT – high intensity interval training.  Things like Body Boss kept popping up on my feed, promising better fitness and body tone with just 24 minutes, 3 days a week!  I initially ignored it, but it was so relentlessly in my face that I eventually decided to see what this HIIT stuff was all about.

The concept of HIIT has been around forever.  But for those of you who are new to this concept, the idea is that you pretty much kill yourself with short bursts of really hard exercise with active recovery in between for an average duration of 25-30 minutes.  Because the activity is very high intensity, it’s an efficient way to work out: you burn more calories in a 28 minute HIIT workout than you do in 1 hour on the elliptical.  Best of all, the majority of HIIT workouts require little more than a small rectangle of space to perform, so you can do the workouts, well, anywhere.  According to the American Society of Sports Medicine, HIIT training has been shown to improve:

  • Aerobic and anaerobic fitness
  • Blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Insulin sensitivity (in fact, there are tons of publications advocating HIIT training for Type II diabetics)
  • Cholesterol profiles
  • Abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass

Hmm…a highly effective workout routine that I can do at home in 30 minutes?  I had to try this!

Unwilling to pay for something I wasn’t yet 100% sold on, I went to the internet.  Just google “HIIT workout” and you will find hundreds of free workouts for your body-destroying enjoyment.  I pulled up a 28 minute workout from Fitness Blenderinwardly still not entirely convinced.  After a 5 minute warm up, I spent the next 20 minutes performing explosive movements for 20 seconds at a time with 10 seconds of active rest (such as a boxer shuffle) in between.  I squatted, lunged, jumped, and pushed-up until every muscle in my body screamed in protest, my heart pounding in my ears and my breath coming in ragged gasps.  At the end I stood hunched, hands on my knees, dripping sweat onto my living room carpet.  I couldn’t believe it had only been 25 minutes – it had felt like forever!

Okay, I admitted as I obediently performed the cool down portion of the workout.  That was hard.  And I was hooked!  HIIT has become a way for me to feed the endorphin monster, to maintain that strong and healthy feeling, on a minimal time budget.

I created a *free* account on Fitness Blender, which was started by a husband and wife team of personal trainers who thought that fitness should be accessible to everyone, no matter what their income (how can you not already love these people?!).   Fitness Blender has a TON of free full-length workout videos ranging in difficulty from 1-5 and in duration from 20 – 90 minutes.  You can pull up workouts that use equipment, but there are hundreds of workouts that require nothing more than an internet connection and an 6 x 4 ft rectangle of floor space.  I love their workouts because 1) they are both really encouraging instructors, 2) they have a visual and audio timer so you know when to go hard and when to do your active rest, and 3) they have the decency to also get a little tired at the end of a grueling level 4 or level 5 workout.  It’s just nice to know, when you feel like you are about to die, that even the uber fit personal trainer leading your workout is a wee bit winded.

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Kelli and Daniel, egalitarian founders of Fitness Blender.

I believe it is still important to do other forms of aerobic exercise.  I haven’t given up swimming, for example – swimming is still my #1 choice for exercise and always will be.  Whenever I have the time to swim, I greedily snatch the opportunity.  Running, too.  However, on those days when I don’t have the time, or when it’s 100 degrees in Redlands and running would put me at risk for heat stroke, I happily log on to Fitness Blender and get my HIIT on, feeling awesome and exhausted 30 minutes later.

If you haven’t given HIIT a try, you really should, especially if you are low on time and want to improve your fitness level.  Let Kelli and Daniel of Fitness Blender make you a convert!

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking in Palm Springs

First off, my apologies for the cyber silence!  I had two consecutive very busy weeks on service with a whole slew of call smack in the middle, and as such my blogging endeavors were temporarily abandoned.  Let us put an end to this drought with my review of hiking in Mount San Jacinto State Park!

Due primarily to the incredible mentorship of Dr. Yevgeniya Ioffe and Dr. Linda Hong in the department of Gynecologic Oncology at Loma Linda, I had a poster accepted at the Western Association of Gynecologic Oncologists annual meeting held in Rancho Mirage June 14-17.  With the meeting coming to a close on Saturday, my lovely friend Eliza and I found ourselves looking for something athletic to do in the area.

I must briefly digress for a public service announcement.  Palm Springs is a super cute town that is at once old-timey and modern.  There are beautiful resorts, golf courses, and tons of excellent restaurants.  There’s a lot of great mid-century modern architecture and lots of outdoor activities.  However, if you haven’t been to Palm Springs in the summer, be warned that it is hot.  Like, really hot.  Like oh-my-God-my-skin-is-on-fire-and-I-think-I-might-die hot.  This is truly the desert, where temperatures of 120 degrees are common during the day, and at night maybe it cools into the 90s.  You feel like you are wilting merely lying by the pool immobile, much less attempting anything remotely resembling exercise after dawn.

There is, however, this gorgeous national park just 10 minutes away, over 8000 feet above the desert floor, where the temperature is about 30 degrees cooler.  You can go hiking, camping, and horseback riding without feeling as though you might keel over from heat stroke after 5 minutes in the ambient air.  And you get to take this really fun/slightly scary tram ride to the top.  Brilliant!  Decision made, we were on our way to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and Mount San Jacinto State Park, air conditioning set to Maximum Stun.

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The desert as viewed from the Palm Springs Aerial Tram.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the world’s largest rotating tram car.  It travels 2.5 miles from the desert floor to Mountain Station at 8,516 feet and takes about 8-9 minutes.   As you travel, the tram switches cables at each of 5 towers along the route, which sends the tram car swinging and evokes mild screams from any children aboard.  If you visit Palm Springs, it is an experience not to be missed!

When you arrive at the ranger station on the road to the tram, there is an attendant who directs you to a parking lot based on availability.  Some of these lots are a little ways away from the tram station, and there is a bus that will take you to the base of the tram.  However, Eliza and I are pretty fit chicks, and we couldn’t abide standing in the heat waiting for said bus.  This is how we came to be dripping with sweat when we rolled in 10 minutes later – though we did beat the bus and the masses it carried!  We picked up our tickets and boarded the tram, marveling at the views as we traveled.  The air grew blissfully cooler the higher we went, and when we arrived at Mountain Station the afternoon sunshine felt pleasant as a light breeze played across our skin.

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Looking down from the tram.

We had decided to do the 5 mile Round Valley hike, and we set off toward the Ranger Station to pick up our hiking permits.  They take safety very seriously around here; when you go out on the trail, you have to first fill out a form stating where you plan to go, how many people are in your group, the type of car you drove, etc.  One copy stays at the ranger station.  The other copy you take with you, returning it only when you are back from your adventure.  At the end of the day if they are missing that second copy, the park rangers go looking for you.  It’s reassuring to know that if something happens to you, help will soon be on the way.  Safety first!

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Hiking through the forest.

We set off along a little creek, hiking up a path shaded by tall pine trees.  Within 10 minutes we were well away from civilization, the only sounds our voices and the burbles of the creek to our left.

There we were, minding our own business when we were set upon by a literal swarm of lady bugs.  From a distance they looked like gnats, but as they landed on various body parts I saw that I was, happily, mistaken.  The polka-dotted little critters were everywhere!  Tickling our arms and legs, swishing by our ears, and getting a little fresh with Eliza as one or two tried to fly into her sports bra.  What was this, lady bug mating season?!  I had never seen so many in one place!  We hurried along, swatting lady bugs out of our faces, finally emerging from the swarm and flicking the last of our erstwhile passengers off of our skin.

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Eliza, shortly after our harrowing lady bug encounter.

Having escaped the lady bug hoard, we continued traveling upwards, clambering over boulders and rock formations, greeting the occasional fellow hiker along the trail.  We crossed over the brook and the trail led away from its burbling course, curving along a gentle slope through more pine forests dotted with the occasional green meadow.  A few times we had to stop and look around when the trail seemed to disappear, always figuring it out eventually.  I was always very reassured when we came upon signage – I really did not want to end up lost out here!

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Signage! Yay!

About 3 miles into the hike the terrain changed a little.  We temporarily left the forest and found ourselves walking through a chaparral with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.  Without the shade of the forest trees it was much warmer, though still nothing like the desert floor below!  We sipped from our water bottles frequently as we took in the beauty around us, amazed that a place so peaceful and majestic existed mere minutes from the bustling resort town below.

 

The trail dipped back into the forest, and we were struck by a very loud rapping sound echoing around us.  It almost sounded like someone chopping into a tree, but there was no one in sight.  Eliza looked up and found the source of the noise – a wood pecker!  I had never seen one before.  The relentless bird rammed its pointed beak into a sturdy tree over and over again, the sound reverberating around us.  I couldn’t help but laugh in delight!  Soon other wood peckers, unseen in more distant trees, joined in, creating an incredible acoustic environment for us as we walked along.

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The beautiful Round Valley trail.

The trail eventually wound back and deposited us at the ranger station 2 hours after our departure.  We turned in our form documenting our successful return, then trudged up a steep concrete set of switchbacks leading to Mountain Station.  We enjoyed the tram ride back to the desert floor, though neither of us were particularly excited to return to the sweltering 114 degrees that had transformed our car into a sauna.  Once we had the air conditioning blasting in our hot faces, we both felt a wonderful fatigue that comes from a good athletic experience…and realized that we were absolutely famished!

We hurried back into town, desperately in search of food.  We burst into Lulu California Bistro like women on a mission, eschewing the seating hostess and making a beeline for the seat-yourself bar area.  Fresh ceviche with lime and cilantro, ahi tuna tatar served with a seaweed salad and pickled ginger, and a delicious hummus with veggies and pita were washed down with multiple glasses of ice water.  Perfection!  Lulu is one of these wonderful Palm Springs establishments that has a prolonged happy hour – meaning it’s happy hour for most of the day – and I was astonished by how inexpensive our meal was!  The food is tasty and healthy, the decor is eclectic, the service is speedy, and you can’t argue with the price.  Lulu California Bistro is definitely worth a visit the next time you find yourself in the area.

Our energy stores replenished, it was time to head back to our hotel for a much needed shower – we were both covered in a fine layer of dust and parts of our clothes were stiff with dried sweat.  We were very pleased with ourselves, and we felt wonderful!  Hiking in Mount San Jacinto State Park was an awesome way to spend the day, and I will definitely be back for more wilderness adventures in the future.

 

Casual Fitness

I hate elevators.  I truly hate elevators.  And not just because of the feeling of claustrophobia (which I get), or the awkwardness of standing around squashed against strangers (which I feel), or the infuriating inefficiency of standing and waiting around for vertical transport (which my meager attention span can’t seem to tolerate).

These considerations, while significant, pale in comparison my observation that we as a society seem to have forgotten that the majority of us have perfectly functioning lower extremities perfectly capable of carrying us up and down a few flights of stairs.  It boggles my mind when I see people use an elevator to go down a single flight.  I mean, really?!

Now, don’t get me wrong, elevators do serve a noble purpose.  There are those among us with disabilities, injuries, or other conditions preventing the usage of stairs.  In this regard elevators have served to provide equal transport within a building.  As someone who has moved into dorm rooms on the 5th floor of buildings without elevators, the existence of an elevator to move heavy or bulky objects is a blessing.  In my hospital, elevators allow us to move patients to the places they must go to receive care.  These are just a few examples of appropriate elevator operation.

For routine use, though?

Obesity is a scourge in this country, and it has been getting alarmingly worse over the past 20 years.  Obesity rates exceed 25% of the population in most states and is associated with a myriad of health problems.  1 in 4 women who become pregnant are obese, which not only increases the risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth, and congenital anomalies, it also makes cesarean deliveries and postpartum recovery more complicated.  Even a lot of adults who are not obese are deconditioned from sedentary lifestyles and white collar jobs that require mental, as opposed to physical, exertion.

obesity 1990
United States obesity map in 1990.  Not too bad, really.

Obesity is a complex, multifactorial problem.  However, a major contributor is that most of us Americans have become complacent.  We spend 10 minutes driving around a parking lot to find the closest possible parking space instead of just parking in back and walking.  We take an elevator to go up 3 flights instead of taking the stairs.  We have technology that makes our daily lives easier and more efficient (I love my Roomba), but also provides us more time to sit around.  The American Diabetes Association recommends 10,000 steps a day just to help maintain weight (as opposed to losing weight), and most people fall dramatically short of this goal.  Our cars, technology, and yes, elevators, are not helping.

obesity us
United States obesity map in 2015 with trends by state to the right.  Note the complete absence of blue or green states.  Even in traditionally “fit” states, such as California and Colorado, 1 in 5 people are obese!  This is seriously scary!

Good health is golden. Good health is something to hold sacred, that you can feel grateful for even at those times when the rest of your life seems to be falling apart.  No matter how bad things get, at least you aren’t taking 20 medications to manage all your medical problems.  At least you don’t have to stick yourself multiple times a day to test your blood sugar and give insulin injections.  At least, if you live at the clinic, it’s because you are providing care, and not because you need to see multiple doctors a month for all of your medical conditions.  At least you don’t have to devote a chunk of your income to prescriptions and copays.  In a high stress world, at least you don’t have to be stressed about your health.

Have I made my point?

To live a fabulous life you have to have the health and vitality to really live.  Maintaining good health is a necessity to maintaining balance, and maintaining good health is something in this crazy world of ours that you can actually have some control over.  Part of maintaining good health is keeping your body fit.  Vanity aside, staying fit keeps your heart strong, your muscles lean, your bones free of osteoporosis, and even keeps your mind sharp.  Good fitness ensures you can continue to enjoy the things you love well into your later years.  Who cares if you are 70 if you have the fitness of a 50-year-old?

mom and dad at wedding
My parents.  Aren’t they gorgeous?  Dad is 70 and still runs marathons.  Mom is 67 and swims 3-4 days a week.  Totally healthy, pretty much zero medications, and they look younger than most couples in their 50s.  They are fit and happy and living life fabulously!

Finding time to workout, though, can be tough.  When I work 16 hour days and 90 hour weeks, the last thing I want to do is go to the gym.  I’m sure many of you can relate!  So how to prioritize fitness and maintain balance when the time and energy just frankly doesn’t exist?  Enter what I like to call “casual fitness.”  What I mean by this is figuring out how to build small snippets of exercise into your day.  Here are some examples:

  1. Get a FitBit or some other sort of fitness tracker and set goals for yourself, at a minimum 10,000 steps a day.  Then see how you do.  Having a goal and keeping track will help motivate you to walk more!  These devices keep track in real time, so if it’s 3pm and you’ve only got 2000 steps, then you know you’ve got some work to do before midnight!
  2. Pretend elevators do not exist.  Take the stairs 100% of the time (okay, unless you are going to the 100th floor of a sky scraper or something…though if you’re feeling it, go for it!)  As someone who hates elevators and has a lot of experience taking the stairs, I promise you will not be a sweaty mess in your nice suit after walking up to the 3rd floor.
  3. Stop circling the parking lot at a grocery store or restaurant, stalking the space in front.  Just go to the back, park, and walk.  Even if you are in heels – you know you’ve walked farther in heels before!
  4. Take periodic 5 minute walks throughout the day.  Short of someone coding, imminently delivering, or whatever similar emergency exists in your line of work, there is nothing that can’t wait 5 minutes for you to get up and stretch your legs from time to time.  Get away, clear your head, get some steps in.  By the time you get back you will feel better and likely be more efficient!
  5. No matter how tired your are or how gross you feel, you can always walk.  Take a 15 minute walk after dinner every night (or longer).  Bring your family with you and make it some time to be together without the distraction of technology.
  6. If you live close to your grocery store or place of work, consider walking.  Biking is a good option as well, just be careful of distracted drivers who are texting and not necessarily looking out for you.

You would be surprised how much activity just these small changes can add to your day.  You may not be devoting an hour to a formal exercise regime, but you will be incorporating casual fitness on a regular basis.  I predict in a few weeks you will notice a difference.  So join me in eschewing the elevator in the name of casual fitness and better health!  I’ll see you on the stairs.

What ideas do you have about how to incorporate casual fitness into your day?  I would love to hear your thoughts!