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Blogs

One Small Change

Contributing writer Joe Kita dares to make one little, healthy change every month. Past experiments include giving up caffeine, napping daily, and stretching like it's your job.

One Small Change

The Verdict on Aging, Performance and Birthdays

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For the last month in this blog I’ve been trying to come to grips with a milestone birthday – my 50th – and what it means to performance and life. You’ve probably done the same when you turned 30, 40 or just marked the passage of another year. It’s human to assess and wonder.

To mark my half-century and attempt to gain some further insight and perspective, I spent five days at Kripalu in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. A former Jesuit seminary, Kripalu is an eclectic mix of college (schools of yoga, massage and ayurveda), commune (dorm living and lots of women without make-up), fitness facility (yoga, yoga and more yoga), retreat (silent breakfasts and a secluded wooded campus) and colon-cleansing center (fiber, fiber and more fiber). In many ways, it’s the perfect setting for digestion of all kinds.

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Tags: Attitude, Flexibility, Longevity, Leisure Time

One Small Change

The Age-Defying Mindset

Amby Burfoot, the 1968 winner of the Boston Marathon, running in the World Veterans Championships 10,000 meters, Riccione, Italy, Sept. 2007.

My friend Amby Burfoot won the Boston Marathon in 1968. Like me, he’s celebrating a birthday this month; he was 63 a few days ago. I’ve often thought that it must be doubly difficult for elite athletes to get older. They not only experienced the rush of great victory but also the peak performance of their bodies. That sort of thing defines you. Surely after that, every back-of-the-pack finish and every struggle to get off the couch must be more difficult than it ever is for aging recreational athletes like myself. Since the elite have risen higher, the drop must be more precipitous.

But when I called Amby recently to catch up, he didn’t offer much support for my theory. He’s still running (more than 100,000 miles to date), living the athletic life (as editor-at-large for Runner’s World) and competing at a high level (with an over-60 racing team at the annual cross-country national championships). Although he bemoans his loss of speed, strength, and fluidity (“My stride feels like it’s 6 inches long now”), he doesn’t mourn the years or the loss of his former self—at least not too much. And ironically that’s what seems to be keeping him young and active. Amby has what I call an “age-defying mindset.” Here are some of its components:

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Tags: Goals, Attitude, Longevity

One Small Change

50 Goals to Feel Younger, Healthier

Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

If, like me, you have a milestone birthday coming up and you’re not exactly ecstatic about the passage of another year (or decade), then here’s a way to not only have some fun but also reaffirm your vibrancy, youth and continuing development. It’s a way to remind yourself that birthdays of any age are really the smallest, most inconsequential change of all.

Since I’ll be turning 50 on August 26, I’m compiling a “50@50” list. Remember the movie "The Bucket List" with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman? It’s kind of like that, only with a twist. Instead of dreaming up wild adventures I want to have before I die (since I hopefully have a few more years left), I’m working on creating 50 goals I’d like to achieve during my 50th year.

As you’ll see, they don’t involve cliché stuff like jumping out of airplanes or climbing Everest. Rather, they’re smaller, more everyday things that, if met, will help me be fitter, healthier, happier, smarter, kinder, and (I hope) an all-around better human being. Here’s what I have so far:

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Tags: Goals, Motivation, Longevity

One Small Change

The Age-Defying Workout

Dave Cruz

Admit it. You’ll never step into the box at Yankee Stadium (unless it’s a corporate one), walk the fairway with Tiger, or mouth “Thanks Mom” from an Olympic podium. Sorry, but that’s the cruel truth and, deep down, you know it. So why then do you continue to train as if you still have a chance? Why be a one-dimensional athlete who risks burnout and even injury because all you do, day after day, is log the miles, mash the pedals or heft the iron?

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Tags: Movement Preparation, Energy System Development, Strength, Longevity, Health

One Small Change

How an Athlete Ages

Getty Images

This month, since I’m turning 50, I’m trying to prove that birthdays—even milestone ones like this one—are the most inconsequential change of all. It’s what’s in our heads rather than in our bodies that makes the real difference. But that’s not to say our bodies don’t undergo some pretty significant changes as we approach the Metamucil Years. In fact, here’s what happens to three of the biggest components of athletic performance:

Strength

According to research conducted at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (how did I not apply there?), the average guy’s ability to bench-press an 80-pound barbell drops from 23 reps at age 18-25 to 6 reps at age 65-plus. That means the average young man is nearly three times as strong as the typical gray-hair. Indeed, strength declines more precipitously with age than any other fitness component.

Cardiovascular fitness

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Tags: Longevity, Health

One Small Change

The Age-Defying Diet

thegreenparty / flickr

I now have enough evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother was trying to kill me. She kept a can of grease under the kitchen sink that she repeatedly recycled for frying things—like her potato pancakes, pork-kraut roll and even mince bologna. For breakfast when I was in grade school, she’d warm a tray of pecan twirls and instant black coffee, then puzzle over why I got D's in conduct. Any meat, like steak or chicken, was always boiled first (“to get the scum off”) and then cooked. It wasn’t until I was well past puberty that I realized a good steak was dark and juicy rather than the color and texture of rhino hide.

I weighed 200 pounds when I left home at age 21, and my cholesterol and sugar were already high. Fortunately, a succession of jobs in the health-and-fitness field educated me about proper eating, and I slowly changed my diet. Now on the brink of turning 50, I weigh 175 pounds and have no significant health problems. In her defense, mom didn’t know what she was doing nutritionally and, when it comes right down to it, neither do most people. So I won’t prosecute.

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Tags: Fat, Supplements, Nutrients, Longevity, Health

One Small Change

The Art of Aging Gracefully

Andrew Redington / Getty Images

The older I get, the less I want to acknowledge my birthday. Lord knows I don’t need any more sheet cake, novelty neckties, or embarrassing serenades from restaurant employees. I’d much rather treat it like just another day. But unfortunately that isn’t going to be possible this year because on August 26 I’ll hit (or, more accurately, be hit by) one of the biggest milestone birthdays of all: The Big Five-Oh.

I hope this confession surprises you. I hope you think I write way younger than I really am, and that my metaphors are hip. (Believe me, I work harder on them than Mariah Carey does on her cellulite.) But even if that’s not the case, I hope you’ll humor a soon-to-be old man by checking back periodically throughout the month as I conduct yet another experiment on myself.

Instead of making one small change in my life as I usually do and gauging whether it has any worthwhile effects, this time I’ll be trying to convince you (and, honestly, myself) that turning a year older is really the smallest, most inconsequential change of all.

If you watched the Tour De France, British Open or Beijing Olympics, you saw some amazing performances by Lance Armstrong (age 37), Tom Watson (59) and Dara Torres (41). And they weren’t just participants in some of the world’s premier events; they were contenders. Armstrong finished a strong third, Watson lost in a playoff, and Torres won three silver medals. (None of them is talking about retirement either.)

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Tags: Attitude, Longevity, Health

One Small Change

6 Lessons from a Month of Better Breathing

Getty Images

So what have I learned after 31 days of trying to breathe my way to better health and performance? Here’s a synopsis:

1. People scoff.

When I’m standing over a putt or kneeling in the on-deck circle with eyes closed taking deep inhales and exhales, I’m routinely asked if I’m okay. People get worried. When I explain I’m just doing my breathing exercises, they invariably look puzzled and skeptical. After I struck out in a recent game, one wiseguy suggested that perhaps it’s time for me to “respire.”

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Tags: Stress, Focus, Health, Pressure

One Small Change

Breathing Technique for Healthy Travel

aarongustafson / flickr

I’m sitting deep in coach between a fidgety three-year-old with a runny nose and, across the aisle, a middle-age woman with a frightening cold sore who for some reason keeps smiling at me. I’m trying to focus on my newspaper and not worry, but the lead story is about an outbreak of swine flu on a cruise ship.

I’m doomed, I presume. Just about every time I fly I catch a cold or flu, and this time will probably be no different. Unless….

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Tags: Health, Travel, Disease

One Small Change

Performance Breathing: Does it Work?

Foto43 / flickr

So you think you’re in pretty good shape? Your arms are hard, your endurance is good, and your abs are coming in (at least when viewed from a 75-degree angle in bright morning light). But what have you done for your diaphragm or intercostal muscles lately? What’s that? You didn’t know your diaphragm was a muscle (it’s actually one of the body’s largest), and you never heard of the intercostals (they attach to the rib cage)? If you’re not regularly working these, then you’re not totally fit. In fact, you’re sacrificing health and performance.

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Tags: Swimming, Outdoor Recreation, Cycling, Running, Abs

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