Saturday, April 19, 2014

How I lost Fifteen Pounds (Not Spam!)

Once upon a time, I was a pretty good athlete. NCAA recruiting letter in my senior year of high school; set a record in track and field when I was in college; played a lot of basketball on playgrounds across the country. Then, as I got older, the demands of work took over and I basically didn't exercise for twenty years.

Eventually it began to sink in that my lifestyle was significantly lowering my odds of watching my kids graduate from high school or college. That lit a fire under me, and I did something about it. So I'm happy to say that after two decades of dissipation, I'm finally on an upswing. I wanted to share my model, in case it might help some other workaholics out there.

Here's the plan:

  • Exercise three times a week: on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 

  • Exercise for just 15 minutes--with high intensity.

  • Spend those 15 minutes on the exercise bike (to minimize risk of injury when returning to fitness). 

Some features of this plan:

1) I don't sacrifice any working time.

Although I certainly work on Fridays and on weekends, my schedule on weekends is very flexible, and to some extent that is true of Fridays as well.

The 15-minute time frame is essential. If need be, I can make my entire workout cycle fit into a half-hour--exercise, shower, and transit time. This lowers the competition with work.

Principle (1) is the most important reason for the success of my program. Twenty years of data has proven that work never loses--I finally got wise and stopped trying to beat an invincible opponent.

2) I don't miss any workouts when I travel for work.

It's hard to maintain a workout schedule when you're on the road. You might be on planes all day; the equipment in the fitness room might be dysfunctional; or the business at hand might simply take all of the available time. Often I'll be at dinner with colleagues who are bemoaning a missed workout. Neither of us will have exercised that day, but one of us is right on schedule. Given how the days fall, I rarely pack running shoes.

3) I don't sacrifice any sleep.

Many people with young kids and demanding jobs make room for exercise by sacrificing sleep. They wake up at 5am, or they extend the evening long after the kids have gone to bed. For me that would be a Pyrrhic victory. Why lose sleep?

4) I do have to work out during family time.

On Saturday and Sunday, there comes a point in the day when I slip out of the house to exercise. That is certainly time when I could have been playing with the kids. But again it matters that this is a weekend, when there is plenty of time to go around. And it matters as well that the workout is 15 minutes, so I'm not gone long. Meanwhile it's a positive thing that I don't have to spend any time working out during the week, when family time is scarce.

5) Vacations are a pain.

When visiting family or vacationing, the travel tends to be concentrated around weekends. So I always have to do research ahead of time to find out where I can buy a day pass to a gym. And then I have to fit the gym time into the vacation agenda. However, since the work-to-vacation ratio is enormous, this is a small drawback.

You might wonder about how diet plays into all this. The answer is, I basically eat whatever I want. Food is, and ought to be, a pleasurable thing. I can't be guilting myself all the time over food.

There are however some second-order effects. Like, I actually prefer the way I look I sometimes make eating decisions with that in mind. And unrelated to fitness, I paused my alcohol consumption recently in order to help my sleep and sinus problems. That has probably helped out waist-wise.

Looking ahead

I find that when I talk about my exercise plan, the first thing everyone does is try to optimize it. "Add another workout during the week." "Do some weights, too." "You need to work on your flexibility."

People. What I need to do is not spend another 20 years doing jack-shit.

Of course, I do expect this workout to be different in a year or two. But the simple plan above was like a miracle drug for turning my fitness around after decades of failure. Maybe it will work for you or someone you love!

UPDATE (5/26/14): Clarified the third part of the plan.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Saturday School

Every Saturday at 10am is "Saturday School" at our house. It's only an hour or so. The important thing is that it's firmly on our calendars, so we schedule around it. Playdates, museum trips, and errands begin later than they used to; lazy mornings end a bit sooner. It's an extra commitment, though it's far short of the commitment homeschooling parents make on any given weekday.

Reading has always been a daily thing in our house, so Saturday School has just been about math. On any given Saturday, my wife and/or I might work with the kids on such things as:
  • A maze, a dot-to-dot, or some other warm-up activity--this gets them comfortable at their desks.
  • A worksheet that I make up (I just create it quickly while they're doing the warm-up activity). Our kids are at different stages mathematically, so I create separate worksheets for them. 
  • Some pages from this series of workbooks, which the kids really enjoy (individual grades here). We also have some word problem books that we draw from.
  • A dice game, using these fabulously glitzy dice that I found on Amazon.
  • Another fun dice game that we got at the Museum of Mathematics in New York. (This is my kids' favorite museum in the city.)
With the younger we're aiming to build up some number bonds, get to recall with some of the single-digit sums, get some practice with counting on, build understanding of two-digit numbers, use some properties of operations, and do some easy word problems (she's practicing reading too). With the elder, the main goals are number bonds, recall of single-digit sums, practice with making ten, and the harder kinds of word problems about the uses/meanings of addition and subtraction. I also include a multi-digit sum for her. (She thought it was really cool when she was able to calculate 3,258,152 + 5,131,646 lickety-split using the standard right-to-left algorithm. Of course, she doesn't really have a sense of those numbers, but that didn't stop her from getting the answer...such is the nature of an algorithm, after all. And computing such a stupendous sum made her feel like a little big shot!)

Here's one of the games we play with the pink dice. Roll the dice. Now mentally compute, or know from memory, the sum of the two values shown; record the sum on paper; and keep a running total. The first player to reach 100 points wins. It sounds boring, but they love the dice, and we've had some exciting contests that came down to the last roll. A friend says she plays a similar game, with the added wrinkle that if you roll a 1, you have to start all over again at zero. 

Clearly it's not a real curriculum by any means. But I think we might be seeing some learning progress even over the short time we've been doing this. We expect to do a bit more during the summer, maybe with some Core Knowledge lessons, and these phonics workbooks that worked so well for our elder when she was in kindergarten.

In any case, my wife and I are enjoying teaching our kids. It's exciting to watch their minds work. It's also a way to share with them our own values about persistence, effort, and the pleasure of academic ideas. And after a long week when it can seem that the family is a convoy of ships passing in the night, it's just nice to sit next to each other for an hour.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Some music puzzles

1. What is the most romantic song you know that doesn't use the word "love"?

No instrumentals, please--the song should have lyrics. And there shouldn't be any inflected forms (loved, loving, lover, etc.).

2. What's the rockingest song you know that doesn't use drums?


I think some good solutions to #1 are here.

My answer to #2 is pretty strong I think.

(For #2, a song with a very different feel also came to mind - not usually thought of as a rock song, though it did make #12 on the "Mainstream Rock" charts.)

These are subjective, so I suppose they're more like discussion questions. But they do have something in common with puzzles, in that they ask for an optimum subject to given constraints.