Thursday, January 20, 2011

Success Requires Effort and Some Pain Tolerance

Unfortunately, the reality of life is that no pain = no gain (for most things). I don't necessarily mean physical pain, but most worthwhile pursuits require some degree of hard work, sacrifice and sometimes discomfort.

This is certainly true when it comes to physical fitness. The new 2011 physical activity guidelines for Canadians focuses more on intensity than just on duration. In the past, the government was more concerned about getting people moving for a certain number of minutes each day or week. But now they've altered the guidelines by making more specific recommendations about intensity. The following excerpt is taken from the Stats Can website:

New international and proposed Canadian guidelines recommend that to obtain substantial health benefits, adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a week. According to new data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS), 15% of Canadian adults attain this level of activity.

The guidelines also suggest that young people aged 5 to 17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. CHMS data indicated that 7% of young people attain this level of activity.

More info can be found at:

This means that if you get all your exercise by sitting on your knees pulling weeds in your garden, vacuuming the house or even doing only Tai Chi or yoga classes, it is not enough to get the health benefits.

I also want to stress the importance of doing exercise for health benefits. Too often I see women (and men) decide that exercise is nonessential because they are thin or able to manage their weight better through diet. There is no doubt that diet has a bigger impact on weight control than exercise (it can take an hour of vigorous exercise to burn 500 cals and 5 minutes to consume them), however, thin sedentary people can still be at risk for many chronic illnesses(heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, certain cancers, etc.) and exercise can minimize the risk of these conditions.

The Globe and Mail started a series on obesity this week and ultimately, the research findings show that when it comes to a healthy lifestyle, there is not one perfect diet or exercise program. Why? Because everyone is different. To a large extent, our metabolism is genetically determined. Some people can naturally keep weight off easier than others. BUT genetic predisposition towards obesity can be overcome with lifestyle factors including diet and exercise. The unfortunate reality, however, is it is simply just much more difficult for some people to remain lean than it is for others.

The most interesting thing they reported, however, was that motivation to exercise may also be genetically determined. This got me thinking. I wonder if this could be related to pain tolerance? My treadmill workouts kick my ass. I am generally working at between 80-90% of my max HR. This is uncomfortable. But do I stop? Never. I would never think of giving up - unless I was unwell or injured. Was I just born with a higher pain threshold? Does working out at this intensity level just feel intolerably awful for some people? Or does this just reflect my neurotic/ocd/A-Type personality?

We know that our senses are subjective. What is beautiful, tasty or pleasurable to one person is ugly, unpalatable or painful to another. Perhaps some people who do not eat enough fruits and vegetables simply find them intolerably bitter or sour. There is quite a bit of research showing how our taste buds affect our food preferences. Supertasters, for example, have a heightened sense of taste and tend to dislike things like broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, spinach and spicy foods.

Nevertheless, while food preferences and motivation to exercise may have a genetic component, environment likely plays a bigger role in our choices. Opportunities to exercise, social support, culture, and socioeconomic status all have a significant impact on our lifestyle. And even if you hate vegetables and whole wheat bread and sweating, it doesn't have to be that way forever! Research has consistently shown that familiarity fosters liking. That is why you are supposed to serve your children a new food at least 10 times before assuming they don't like it. That is why a song you initially heard on the top 40 radio station and found annoying starts to grow on you after you have heard it for the 300th time.

The key to living a healthy life is finding a way to live that you enjoy and maintain long-term. For some people this may take a lot of practice and a lot of trial and error. If you don't like kale sauteed with garlic, try it in soup. Or try eating spinach instead. If you don't like going to gyms, try workout DVDs at home or home exercise equipment or a team sport or a martial art or start biking to work. These days the possibilities are endless. Just keep trying until you find something you enjoy. The reality is, like other worthwhile pursuits - such as parenting, maintaining a healthy marriage, having a successful career - it takes EFFORT.

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