Tag Archives: physical condition

Pain in life, in sports, as a Christian

This is going to be some practical advice on fitness, competition, and also kind of a metaphor of life the way God made us. The subject matter is pain.

Now I will stipulate out of the box that I have probably had many more opportunities to build a tolerance for pain, in many respects, but in this context physical pain. In 29 years in the Coast Guard I was in many situations where either I was hypothermic or hyperthermic, too cold or too hot respectively. I always prefer too hot. Had bouts with motion sickness. Had many bouts with extreme fatigue. Did endure a lot of challenges of strength and physical punishment.

I also like to participate in sports. I played, a very little football. Not because I didn’t like it, I was a lousy player. I played a little basketball. You may doubt it, but basketball was probably much more physical. I had a guy come down right on the top of my head with his elbow. I’ve been elbowed straight in the face, sprained ankles a few times, and various hits. I’ve come closer to being knocked out on a basketball court, then football. I also like kick- boxing. I have built a high tolerance of pain because I went out and endured a lot of pain. In a lot of instances I had to. In more instances I wanted to be stronger and endure more so that I could serve better in what I do. The more strength and endurance I had, the more I could help those in my crew and the more I could help those who needed assistance.

One other caveat. I am not saying that you should not deal with legitimate pain. There is pain that you will experience as the result of a workout and it really feels good, it’s healthy pain. Whenever I go more than fifty miles on my bike I can feel that pain right in my seat, often for a few days. It’s not doing permanent damage, it’s also a “pleasant” reminder that I pushed a little harder and made myself a little stronger. That is a good thing. You do feel better for it.

I can hear you say “that’s nice, but I don’t like pain”. Ya, you will find it strange, but I have found that the exhilaration of taking a shot that you hadn’t before and realizing you’re still fine and a little stronger for it is a rush. Ya, I have bad eating habits myself, and I could stand to lose at least another 15 pounds. But for those of you who are reaching for your next twinkie and can’t begin to grasp the idea of enduring pain, you need to get a grip. Yes, there is bad pain, and for those of you who spend most of life sitting around playing video games or watching television you need to go to a doctor and make sure you can do more physical activity. But, I know this is really ground-breaking, if you put away the junk food, put away the screen(s), figure out what would be best for you to do, and do it. You will feel better. God made your body in order to feel good when you do the right things, and feel bad when you abuse it. You can say that it makes you feel good to sit in front of a screen and chain swill twinkies. But inevitably I will hear the same person say that they don’t feel well, physically, mentally and socially. We all have issues, but in terms of making them worse, sitting around and abusing your body with inactivity and bad food is going to make you feel worse. Eating well and pushing yourself will leave you feeling better, you will still have issues, but those issues won’t be so all consuming as I’ve seen it with people who just pursue bad habits and life style. I wish that our government would make the same campaigns against diabetes that it does about smoking. Diabetes is far more of a critical issue, I know a lot of people with diabetes, don’t know one with lung cancer. The biggest health issue in this country is by far diabetes, and we are raising our children to be diabetic in their 30’s. This is health crisis that is completely out of control and it’s all due to lousy diet and lack of physical conditioning. Wow talk about controllable elements!

God made our bodies in order to grow stronger, to endure pain and to also through chemical means endure that pain, to make it almost an addiction. There are many who would claim to be “addicted” to exercise. I know that I don’t feel very well if I don’t exercise on a regular, if not daily basis. Part of that “addiction” is a hormone that God has given human beings the ability to create called “endorphins”. Endorphins are an opiate, I’ve seen it described as three times more powerful than morphine. The trick though is that endorphins, along with other “feel good” body chemicals, are released through exercise and proper body maintenance. Sitting around will give you a dose of “dopamine”, but it will act more to cloud your brain and make you feel more lethargic, than to make you feel good!

Having said all this, there are ways to “increase your pain tolerance” and you should, we have a responsibility to ourselves, each other and to God who gave us a strong, healthy body, at least initially, to make ourselves stronger. Otherwise we become a burden and make things tougher for those around us.

In terms of sports, I saw this article in “Triathlete Magazine” (Mackenzie Havey March 2015 p 54). One reason we don’t push a little harder is that we don’t want to feel pain. The article says: “Published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers had a group of cyclists perform sprint interval tests on bikes, giving them either 1.5 grams of acetaminophen (pain reliever, aka generic Tylenol) or a placebo prior to exercise. They then monitored their power output and heart rate during each sprint, finding that when they took acetaminophen, the participants had a significantly greater mean power output.”

“…They concluded that their findings ‘supported the notion that exercise is regulated by pain perception and increased pain tolerance can improve exercise capacity.'”

Yes, I know, horrors, the idea that you actually have to suffer a little. Come on in day-to-day life you have to “suffer” in order to achieve something. Work 8 hours (let’s hope you’re really ‘working’, I’ve seen enough of the “working man” who whines about how he works and I see way too many people chatting and lolly-gagging versus working). “Suffer” 8 hours and get paid so you can live some kind of life. Hopefully you endure the fussing of children in order to try and raise them to be responsible adults. So the idea that you have to push a little to make yourself healthier shouldn’t be a surprise or a daunting chore.

Let me explain to you how the body works. The muscles in your body and incidentally that includes your heart and what you need to make your lungs function, need to grow. If you don’t do what’s necessary to make them grow, they become weaker. Hence cardio/pulmonary problems arise when you don’t strengthen them. In general, exercise breaks apart your muscle. Sounds scary, but unless you tear the muscle up a little, it can’t repair itself into something stronger. Forcing your heart to work at a higher rate (the average person has a heart rate of about 75 beats per minute. I have workouts that get my heart rate up to 175 beats per minute). If you are not conditioned for it, do not try to raise your heart beat that high. But even getting it into the 110s, makes your heart work harder and strengthens it. To do that you have to endure pain, but done right, it’s good pain. “…higher pain tolerance and increased performance go hand in hand. Luckily, with a bit of hard work, you can naturally boost that tolerance – and thereby performance – without running to the medicine cabinet.” Goes on to say that consistent training enables you to achieve a higher pain tolerance.

You do need recovery, if you keep breaking the muscles down, they won’t have a chance to repair and build more: “If you are focused on suffering all the time, you get tired and have no reserve, which lowers pain threshold.” And I’m here to tell you the time after that workout feels oh so nice. If you’ve been cold (I just finished doing a 13 mile bike ride in 40 degree weather), you feel nice and toasty and you have a very calm mindset. This is because your body was designed by God to kick in hormones to help you with pain. As I referred to one hormone that kicks in is called “dopamine” It tends to calm your body after significant exercise. During exercise your body kicks in “endorphins”. Endorphins gives your body a narcotic effect, they are an opiate. But an opiate that is designed by God to naturally relieve pain and to give you more strength during stress along with adrenaline to give you more energy and to withstand more stress. By the way, for you vegetarians, these are all the result of amino acids, which comes from protein. The most effective protein humans can eat are fish, chicken, eggs, beef. So this goofy idea that just eating vegetables is good for you? Overall? No, not really. But again it’s an issue of conditioning. If you’re conditioning your heart to be stronger it can deal with a little cholesterol. And a lot of these phoney cholesterol studies never really took into account some people’s natural tendency to have higher cholesterol.

Finally these all help to increase the flow of Serotonin, aided by our favorite turkey dinner chemical tryptophan, which both calm and help you to sleep, but both of these are also the body’s reaction to the chemicals that are released in order to strengthen and increase reaction. God made us to be incredibly resilient and to also help us to grow and be stronger. “But I’m too old”, yea? No! Our bodies can benefit from exercise well into old age. Heck I’ve heard enough stories of guys who realized in their mid-50s they couldn’t keep doing what they were doing and started to work out and they’re now doing Ironman Triathlons. So it can be done and is being done on a regular basis by regular Joe’s and Jane’s.

Again do not start a workout routine until you’ve been checked by a physician. There are conditions that physical activity will worsen. I would strongly suggest you pay a trainer too. I’ve been doing aerobic and strength workouts on a regular basis since I was in my teens, 40 years. But for someone starting even in their twenties, you can only go so far so fast, your body needs to build up to a certain level. Having said that the longer you wait, the longer it will take you to get to a healthy level.

We can far exceed what we think we can tolerate. Our mind usually has a much lower sense of what we can tolerate and your mental state will cause you to take your foot off the pedal when you really do have more in the tank. “…known as the Central Governor theory, says that it’s not our bodies but our brains that shut us down in an effort to either avoid harm or simply an aversion to pain…”(“Ask Bicycling” Bicycling Magazine June 2015 p 34) “…The power of suggestion is strong regardless of the message. In a 2007 study subjects experienced a 15 percent increase in pain tolerance with just the suggestion that they received morphine (they really got saline). The same concept supports the idea that we can fool ourselves into going faster. A 2012 study found that when cyclists raced a 4km time trial against a virtual competitor (that in fact was riding 1.7 percent quicker than their previous best all-out effort)m they still “won the race”. This means if you can overcome your mental reservations, ignore your brain, quit talking yourself out of things, that you can go stronger and longer than you think you can. Heck if I could improve performances 1.7 percent every time I worked out I’d be thrilled to death. A professional athlete who could do that would spiral into a whole other level of accomplishment.

In today’s world we talk ourselves into the idea that we should be happy and pain free, that is just not realistic and is actually unhealthy in so many ways: mentally, physically, aging, spiritually. God did not make us to be mediocre and settle for less. Granted we can’t all be Lance Armstrong or Michael Jordan etc, but we can and should be a heckuva lot better than we are. God made us to be that way by giving us such an amazing complex and strong body. Let’s quit this idea that we should be sitting around eating whatever we want and do a little more in our life. You will be better for it, your family will be, your neighborhood, your city, your church, heck can you imagine a whole society of people who have worked to their level of physical health? Our so-called “health care crisis” would evaporate instantly, our world would be so much happier and God made us to be that way. But, as usual, we give God a patronizing wave, ignore His will and take the easy way out.


How we honor our body, what God has given us.

I have a beef with the medical care system. We have way too many people who, at the slightest twinge, run off and expect someone to give them all sorts of care and miraculously expect every twinge to go away. I have bad news for you, there’s always going to be these weeney little booboos. Get over them. But we also need a medical system that first, knows what it’s talking about and doesn’t just pop a pill at the slightest whimper and we need to be much more knowledgeable about our bodies and quit the whining and whimpering.
I had a tightening in my left foot. Found out it was plantar fascitis. I run a lot, I do triathlons. One writer describes plantar as the “common cold” of runners, it’s going to happen. I know another individual, had the same symptom. Without a second thought runs off to the doctor, who prescribe some therapy, and, of course, pills. This takes up time that someone is going to have to pay for, that is all of us, all for something that I went to Walgreens, checked around, found something that goes around my foot and months later, still have not had the least problem with that.
Was playing basketball (bear in mind I’m in my fifties. I’m not some twenty -something smart guy) all of a sudden I just went down, my right calf seized up so badly and quickly I really thought I had done something really bad to the achilles. I realized it was a bad cramp and it wasn’t the first time I got cramps in my calf. I could have rushed off to get the medical attention that I am just so entitled to (he says sarcastically) or I could have used a little sense. The answer? Eat fruit, I started eating an apple before working out. This gives us a little hydration and minerals that support our muscles and keep them from cramping. By the grace of God, it’s been a year and I haven’t had any leg cramps whatsoever. In this case. an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Unless of course you go running off to the doctor.
Yea, I’m getting older, the sciatic on my right side was causing real pain and limiting mobility. Again this is something that is a common complaint of runners and bikers, I’m both. Instead of running for my all vitally important medical care and attention, I read that this is common and is the result of an imbalance in the conditioning of the muscles. Something doctors, who are frightfully ignorant of nutrition and conditioning would not deal with, “hey, just take a pain killer.” Yea, great unless you’re concerned about carcinogens and the affect these pills have on your heart, liver, kidneys and even pulmonary system. I start doing dead lifts, it’s been three months, no pain and much better mobility. Not because of pills or some treatment, but better conditioning. Well we can’t have that, now can we? No one really makes any money off of me if I do these things. Fact of the matter, I’m stronger, have better nutrition and can continue to be stronger without a lot of medical nonsense messing up my body.
As to conditioning and diet. I’m in my fifties, I continue to do short distance triathlons, I continue to train for them and other events. I continue to do weight training. I’m probably as strong as I was in my twenties. That is because while the normal aging process breaks down muscle, especially in a man, you can compensate for it by reasonable, regular exercise.
Now, of course comes more whining, but of a different nature. I can’t exercise. I’m too old, or not athletic enough. People will laugh at me, my dignity is all important. I have news for many of you. People are kind of laughing, behind your back, because you have become obese. You have diabetes, you make a joke out of the fact you couldn’t run around the block. You stuff whatever you want in your mouth without a second’s thought, because well you’re entitled to eat what you want, to have someone fix the damage you do (a very expensive and frankly not effective medical system) and, to top it off, to have someone else pay for all the attention you get. Frankly I’ve seen some people who crave the attention they get more than the treatment. You want attention? That’s what a church is for, your pastor is for, your brothers and sisters in Jesus are for. They will listen, they will empathize, they will try to help. Doctors and nurses etc try, but they’re not going to give you the attention your church family will and your church family is a whopping lot less expensive to all of us, then these new cathedrals of it’s all about me, usually referred to as health care facilities. We always make huge monuments to the things that we care most about. In this day and age, those monuments are hospitals and the new priesthood is doctors. Why? Because it’s all about me, make me feel better, give me attention.
People have to get real about conditioning. I’m not suggesting you do a triathlon. I’ve been swimming since I was six years old. I’ve been doing triathlons regularly for thirty years. You’re not going to be able to do what I do next week. However, anything you do proactively, starting now, will be a huge health benefit. Yes, go to a doctor and tell him/her that you want to quit fooling around and start living a strong life, not dependent on someone pushing pills on you and causing a myriad of other physical problems. The only thing a doctor can do is tell you whether or not you are able to do it, i.e. you don’t have a heart you’ve abused so long that it won’t fail if you raise your pulse about 80 beats per minutes.
Assuming that, then go to another professional, someone who can show you how to live life and not just take pills. I know what you’re still whining about. “I don’t want to look silly!” Yea, well that ship’s already sailed, maybe you want to start to actually feel and look a little better and quit fussing about your precious dignity. Now, even if you get a rudimentary idea of what to do, get up, go out to a gym and start devoting at least three/four days a week. “I don’t have the time.” Yea right, I’ve been getting up at 5am since I was in boot camp. Get up an hour earlier, pray, then do some exercise.
Again, get over your dignity and go to a gym. You might not like that others are there too, oh well. Those who are there are now brothers and sisters. They know what you’re going through, they’ve been there and they actually respect that you’re there. They respect you more than the average sloth who thinks he’s entitled to abuse his body and make the rest of us pay for it. if anything they will be happy to help, feel free to ask. If they do make a suggestion, they’re not doing it to make fun, they’re doing it because they care enough for you to not get hurt. If you let them, they may work out with you and give you some coaching. You know what? People pay big bucks for that kind of thing and the guy or woman next to you is giving you an immensely valuable gift. I’ve seen a few people in the weight room who obviously needed help. One younger kid was lifting weights wrong. I didn’t want him to hurt himself and I started giving him some direction. I may not be much of an athlete, but if I’ve been doing this for almost fifty years, am still in decent condition, can still finish a triathlon, am decent looking and without any, real, physical issues, I must be doing something right. I may not be doing it great, but I’d bet that I or someone else in that gym will help you, gratis, and do you far more good on a day to day basis then any doctor. You’re choice, but maybe it’s about time, a lot of people, again, got over themselves, stopped running off to the doctor, started eating reasonably, did some aerobic, resistance and flexibility training and all of a sudden they’re not a lump on a sofa. They are now a reasonably conditioned person, whose body feels better, who have a much better mental and emotional condition and, oh yea, because you got up earlier and did some praying, you’re feeling a much closer bond to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And you’re also showing Him that you are caring for the great gift or your body and life that He gave you.
So put the phone down, do us all (except maybe the medical establishment) a big favor and resist the urge to run off to the doctor and start giving yourself the care you should have been doing since you were six years old. Or, the people who really matter, they’re not going to laugh at you, but they’re going to feel pity that someone could let themselves get into such a deplorable condition.

Great habits to help to make life great, to live our best in Jesus.

We know that there are times when we are just on our game, at our creative height and we can associate that with our physical condition. How can we recreate those conditions to be at our best more often?

Prof Baba Shiv of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business offers some really great direction.

In an article in Inc Magazine (Feb 2014 pp 86-87) Ryan Underwood writes: “According to Shiv, creativity resides at the intersection of two primary pathways in the brain. along one pathway, the neurotransmitter serotonin governs whether you are operating from a sense of calm and contentment or from a position of anxiety and fear. On the other pathway, dopamine moves you from boredom or apathy to excitement and engagement.” You want a high combination of serotonin and dopamine to be calm and energized at the same time.

Serotonin is the key and the article discusses a way to maximize the effect of this neurotransmitter which is a sense of well-being, satisfaction, seems to be in terms of initiating, creating. Shiv/Underwood points out that a calm, probably aesthetically pleasing environment, work space finding ways to reduce stress enhance the effects of serotonin. Other studies I’ve seen have discussed a pleasant ambient noise, like a coffee shop environment, pleasant music. They point out that “…two hours of deep, non-REM sleep at night enables the body to restore the proper levels of serotonin.”

“Serotonin levels tend to be highest in the morning, making it an optimal time to schedule brainstorming sessions.” I know I always seem to be at my best in the morning, if I really need to do my best I try to get on the task immediately and get as much as possible done in the morning. Shiv points out that a good breakfast helps to enhance the effect of the serotonin. That means put the donuts and the puffy carbs away and eat a breakfast higher in good proteins and carbs. My breakfast is boring as heck, but it’s two par-boiled eggs (and get over the cholesterol thing. The effect is no where as bad as has been suggested and eggs have elements that are necessary and not available in other foods. Boiling retains the health benefits and minimizes the effects of frying and cholesterol.) Also oatmeal with strawberries. All good energy food and Shiv adds: ‘”That’s the best brain food,” he says. “The proteins produced from it in the body are converted to the much-coveted serotonin and dopamine.”‘ And they both add, throw in the caffeine for extra effect.

“Cardiovascular exercise also enhances the neurological conditions for creative thinking by releasing a peptide that helps produce serotonin.” it helps to get up and get a little exercise before any effort. Forty minutes of vigorous exercise at least five days a week are recommended. I have been doing a vigorous workout every morning since my twenties (over thirty years). I have found on days when I didn’t do a workout, that I was very sluggish, everything seemed to be challenging and I was not very productive. You may think that tough physical activity might somehow wear you out, make you too tired to be productive, but it’s been my experience it enhances my entire physical well-being.

“Maintaining a variety of intellectual interests also keeps the creative juices flowing. Shiv says it’s important to talk to people in other disciplines and read widely outside your field  to develop ‘knowledge nodes’ – bits of unrelated  information that can come together to produce an unexpected solution.” I maintain a wide variety of interests, having had a professional career in corporate finance, in the Coast Guard, in Christian ministry. Add to these interests in physical fitness, science, travel, language, writing, I like to read extensively, talk with different people. As a Police Chaplain I get to interact extensively with various levels of police officers and people undergoing trauma, stress. In ministry I get to share with people over some of the biggest life events, marriage, birth, death. injury, loss etc. Some may seem more pleasant than others, but all of them present their own stressful challenges.

Ok, so a little digression, but the take away from all this is as follows: Good diet, eat right. Cut the nonsense with the big donuts, muffins etc. They don’t do you any good. Find some way to make a calming environment, not to put you to sleep, but to help build the up lifting effects of serotonin and the calming effects of dopamine. Dopamine is important because it keeps you in control, you can have a high level of energy and creativity, and you focus with a good dose of dopamine. Vigorous exercise also produces dopamine necessary to help you maintain your composure. Get your sleep and maintain a lot of interests. Yes, be expert at what you do, but maintain a broad perspective.

A good way to maintain that perspective, on top of everything else, is to maintain your life in Christ. Yea I know, “something else?”. I manage to fit it all in, get into the office and pretty much always put in a 50 plus hour work week and I will match a lot of the stress I deal with, have dealt with, with anyone out there. Remember what it is all ultimately about. What we do today is important, but in Jesus we have an eternal perspective, and we also have a here and now perspective. I’m sure Prof Shiv could have taken it a little further and added that when we have positive relationships with those around us, stay in prayer and connected to God the Father, that we are energized and guided by the Holy Spirit. Get up a little earlier, quit the stupid things that waste time, focus on the things that make you better. Put the lameo games away, the phone, the silly stuff; Take time in prayer, get some real exercise, get good nutrition, get good sleep, interact with people who will help you grow, broaden out your interests to help you grow and then watch the good things happen.

A side bar to the Inc article talks about how “Method” which makes cleaning products offers employees training in improv acting … “all in an effort to keep people weird, creative and humble.”‘ Hmmm, I’m thinking there’s a lot out there and we’re spending way too much time on silly stuff that not only doesn’t do anything for us, but actually can harm us. Start it all up with prayer and look for God’s guidance in all you do.

We meet Wednesday mornings 10 am, First St Johns, 140 W King St, York, Pa, take some time in the middle of the week to discuss your life in the workplace as a Christian. No charge, I even buy your first cup of coffee, no obligation.